Calendar

The calendar is important for both Medieval and earlier Celtic cultures, not only in terms of feast days and holidays but in terms of seasonal changes and consequent changes in appropriate activities and labor. The association between season and labor is exemplified in Irish Brehon law, Medieval Irish and Welsh tales, and in Medieval Books of Hours and Christian festivals and holy days. The Neolithic residents of Ireland and Britain built stone structures like Stonehenge, and Brúgh na Bóinne which was constructed so that dawn marks the Winter solstice inside the passage tomb at Newgrange. In the later Iron age and Medieval eras, we have not only early manuscript references to the four major Celtic feast days of Samain (Modern Irish Samhain), Imbolc, Beltain and Lughnasa, we have fragments of Gaulish calendars, most notably the Coligny calendar. By the time of the Medieval era, the use of a calendar to track the time is clear in references to specific days and dates in the Irish Annals, references to feast days in Medieval Irish and Welsh tales and laws, as well as in the calendars created and used by the church, most notably in the calendar pages of books of hours.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    April from Walters W.425

    This April calendar image from the Walters W.425 prayer book fragment is another calendar page featuring a naturalistic border, like the March calendar page from Walters W.425. The calendar proper includes the feast of Saint Euphemia on April 7. Taurus, the astrological symbol for April, is a recognizable bull, set off by a medallion. Above and below the astrological medallion naturalistic pink and white flowers add a decorative spring-time touch. I don’t know what the flowers are; I suspect, given the detail, that a Flemish gardener of the 15th century would be able to identify them as popular spring time blossoms. There are, I think, three types of flowers in…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    March from Walters Museum W.425

    Walters Museum W.425 is a fragmentary prayer book. Fortunately, all the calendar images are extant. In the astrological medallion in the border on the left, Aries, the sign of the ram, is featured. The astrological symbol is, again, particularly worn, and I wonder if that’s because someone holding the prayer book open  had a thumb resting there. This March image is the first to feature a “naturalistic” border in the calendar images. On the right is a strawberry, and just below the strawberry, a strawberry blossom. The strawberry, because of the three-lobed leaves was associated with the Trinity, and the white blossoms with purity. The labors of March typically show…

  • Calendar

    New Years 2021

    A yere yernes ful yerne, and yeldez neuer lyke, the forme to the fynisment foldez ful selden. —Sir Gawaine and the Grene Knighte Let us hope that this year is an improvement in every single way over 2020. I hope that you and yours are warm and safe and healthy. I hope the same for the U.S. and people everywhere.  

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    December from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This image for December from the Hours of Henry VIII is a really standard image for the labor of December, so much so that I suspect some master pattern book for books of hours is involved. The pigs, shown fattening on mast in November, are now slaughtered and being prepared for butchering. The butcher with his cleaver on the table stands ready, sharpening his knife, already bloodied from the pigs. The weird vaguely pink pointed tongues behind the pigs are meant to be flames; the bristles on the boars are being singed off in preparation for butchering. You don’t generally butcher sows if you can avoid it. There’s a reason…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    November from the Hours of Henry VIII

    The labor for November is often a butchering scene; typically, hogs. But another popular labor for November scenes in books of hours is that of feeding acorns or nuts “mast” to swine, as here and in the Très Riches Heures. In this image from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII, as in the November scene form the Très Riches Heures, we see a man allowing swine to graze on the fallen acorns, while another man beats the trees with a stick to encourage the nuts to fall. Here too the trees are pollards, the lower limbs having been removed for their wood. Notice that both men are dressed warmly…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    October from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This October labor from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry the VIII is actually two labors; on the left, a nattily dressed man in a hat, vest, stockings and shoes is sowing seeds, while on the right another man is ploughing the filed with a team of horses. The crop being sowed is almost certainly a variety of winter wheat, destined to be harvested in summer. The wheat sprouts before the snow falls, and continues, somewhat somnolently, to grow under its winter blanket of snow. The man with with the seeds is scatteringly, rather than planting in rows. You can see a sack with additional seeds on the ground behind…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    September from the Hours of Henry VIII

    Just about anywhere in Europe that could grow grapes in the Medieval era, did (and does). Tasks associated with wine-making, like pruning the vines and pressing the grapes to produce juice, are often featured in books of hours as the labor of September. It’s the labor depicted in the September page of the the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII. This picture shows the complete wine making process from picking to barreling. It is still essentially the same process followed today. The Morgan Library notes the gendered division of labor. In the background women sitting on the ground pick the grapes. This is more accurately described as cutting the grape…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    August from the Hours of Henry VIII

    The labor of August from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII  MS H.8 fol. 4v shows threshing, the labor that naturally follows after the July calendar image of reaping the wheat. One man with an oxcart and team of oxen has brought a load of wheat to be threshed. It’s been cut and left to dry before being loaded into the wagon. You see him standing next to the oxen with the goad he used to guide them. Inside the barn you see two men with jointed flails beating the dried stalk to loosen the grain from the stems of wheat. A jointed flail consists of a long handle…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    July from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This book of hours image from the Morgan Library’s MS H.8 the Hours of Henry VIII shows the July labor of reaping the wheat. You’ll notice that they’re using short-handled sickles, rather than long-handled scythes. The idea is that you cut the tops of the wheat, the part bearing the grain, and first make a small bundle of it (on the ground). That’s what’s happening on the right side of the image, three men cutting the wheat.  Next the wheat is placed in bundles (on the ground) and then someone stacks them neatly on end, on the left. The three men cutting the wheat are an interesting group; it’s hot…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts,  Uncategorized

    June from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This image from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII’s calendar page for June shows the first mowing of the hay, a fairly common labor for June and one frequently illustrated in books of hours. On the left three men swing long-handled scythes to mow the hay, while on the right, women use rakes to heap the mown hay into piles or stacks for drying. After it is thoroughly dried, the hay will presumably be loaded into the wagon waiting in the background, behind piles of drying hay. The wagon is a little odd looking; I’m not sure it was meant to be drawn by horse, mule or ox, but instead…