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

    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…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    May from the Hours of Henry VIII

    The May image from the Morgan Library’s MS H. 8 is on the right; f. 3r. It’s a fairly typical Maying scene, and one I’ve written about before. I still love the little dog, but I want to point out something I missed before, and notice in the Morgan Library’s notes about  the image. There are two little dogs! There’s the one  near the couple and a second one on the track off to the right, leading into the woods.  Here:   I don’t think the two dogs are the same breed; the one in the trees is more hound-like. It looks to me like the couple in this scene…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    April from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This detail is from the April calendar page of the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII MS. H. 8. It features one of the most popular past times featured in book of hours calendar images for the labors of April; the courtly springtime pastime of picking flowers. The scene looks to be set in an enclosed garden; a woman wearing a garland of flowers is braiding another. Next to her her erstwhile swain, appears to be offering her at least one of the two bunches of flowers he bears. The Morgan library describes the man as a “foppishly dressed youth” and suggests that he is holding flowers which she will weave…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    March from the Hours of Henry The VIII

    This March calendar page from The Hours of Henry VIII is a fairly typical March scene in terms of the labors of March depicted in a book of hours. Workers are pruning the grape vines. You’ll notice that it’s early enough that the vines are still without leaves. While it’s possible to prune vines later, it’s not a good idea as the vines will often bleed sap, which isn’t conducive to producing happy grapes. It’s also much easier to tie the vines to a supporting frame or arbor when they aren’t in full leaf but have leaf-buds. As the workers prune grape vines, they tie them to the arbor so that…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    February from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This calendar page for February from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII (Morgan MS. H.8 f1v) features a typical scene in terms of the the labors of February featured in books of hours; the master of the house is standing in front of the hearth, warming himself by the fire. He’s wearing expensive clothing, indicated in particular by the fur trimming on his hat and overcoat, as well as the visible purse he wears. The gentleman is standing in front of a substantial fireplace, with his back to the fire, and his is lifting the hem of his overcoat to warm his backside; a more delicate version of a similar…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    January from the Hours of Henry VIII

      The calendar page for January from the Hours of Henry VIII (Morgan Library MS. H.8 f.1) features feasting in front of the fire, a typical labor for the month of January as depicted in books of hours. This illustration is an example of the “cutaway” scenes that featured in books of hours, with three panels.[1]See for instance the February calendar image in the Très Riches Heures. On the far left the image shows the outside of the house. It’s clearly a snowy winter day. It’s snowing, and the ample wood pile is partially obscured by the falling snow. The next vignette shows someone bringing in wood, while the central…

  • Calendar,  Celtic Myth

    Things I Dread About Samhain

    Because I have a Celtic studies website, every October my email is peppered with messages from two large groups: fundamentalist Christians of various persuasions, and Neo Pagans of various paths. Both sects are writing to inform, deny, assert or correct me regarding Halloween and the Celtic feast known as Samhain in Modern Irish (Samain in Medieval Irish). The amount of email (and comments) increases every year. And the articles posted all over the Web get a little more annoying in their diligent perpetration of myths. Several years ago I even wrote my own FAQ What Is Samain or Samhain to try to stem the tide, to no avail. Both groups…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    December from the Da Costa Hours

    We often think of December as the entry to winter and to Christmas. In the middle ages, typically, winter featured much more dramatically than Christmas. The calendar pages in Books of Hours showing the labors of December most often feature an image of hog butchering, a boar roast, or a boar hunt (sometimes they feature an image of St. John boiling in oil, or the baking of bread) as December labors of the month. This wintery scene is a detail from the December calendar page from the Da Costa Hours (Belgium, Bruges, c. 1515) now in The Morgan Library. (MS M.399, f. 13v). The landscape is snowy, and the people…