Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
.

  

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February

     And with my spade I delfe my landys
   
  ...And with my spade I dig my lands

Typical February scenes:

  • A person warming themselves
    before a fire

  • Chopping wood

  • Pruning trees or vines

Labors of the Month

 

Mend and make tools; spread stockpiled manure and marl on fields; prune grapes, trees, hedgerows; mend fences and clear ditches; plant willow for wickerwork, wattle.

 

Calving begins and lambing continues. Lambs and calves were usually weaned when they were 4-6 weeks old; by then, the meadows offered good grazing.

Labors of February from Early Calendars

February, Salzburg Labors of the Months, Austrian National Museum

Salzburg Labors of the Months, from
St. Peter's Abbey, Austria,
c. . 818 AD
.

The letters FEBR identify the month of this "labor," a warmly dressed falconer with a goshawk perched on his right hand, its jesses hanging just below his palm. In his left hand he is holding their catch: two ducks. He wears a short, long-sleeved tunic, and is Salzburg Labors of the Months, Austrian National Museumwarmly draped in a long red mantle that wraps around his neck, loops in the front to below his waist before being passed over his right shoulder where it is fastened. It falls to below his knees in the back.  His legs are covered in brown leggings, and he wears short boots.

Dating to the early 800s, the Salzburg manuscript  (Codex 387 fol-90v) from which this figure comes is one of the oldest calendars of its kind. It is now in Vienna's Austrian National Library. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

January, Fulda Sacramentary, Germany

Fulda Sacramentary,
Fulda, Germany,
980 CE

Fulda Sacramentary, Germany

The February figure from the Fulda Sacramentary wears clothing reminiscent of classical Roman dress -- knee-length yellow dalmatic or tunic, with long sleeves and an embroidered hem. His reddish cape or toga reaches to mid-calf, and he has green leggings. His shoes are a pale gray. In his right hand he holds a pruning hook, and with his left he grips a vine climbing a vertical stake. The uneven ground beneath his feet is an earthy brown.

Calendar page from the Fulda Sacramentary fragment. In the center is Annus, the year. In each corner is a season, and the twelve months are in columns, six to the left and six to the right. Day and night are in the round medallions top and bottom. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In this busy scene, the two laborers on the right use billhooks to prune low-growing, leafy plants; a third worker is seen at the left with upraised pickaxe. The plants are usually interpreted as being grapevines, but may well represent a hedgerow, whose short, thick trunks are topped by many small branches. Each plant grows from the top of a raised dirt bank, a key component of a boundary hedge.

 

Hedger's Tools
pickaxe mattock billhook

February, British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part I,

Anglo-Saxon calendar,
British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part 1,
Winchester, England, c. 1050 CE

February, Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library Lansdowne 383

Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library
Lansdowne 383,
c. 1135 CE

A bearded man wrapped in a warm mantle warms his bare hands and feet before a fire in this February "labor." He wears a soft cap with a rolled brim, and a blue tunic with yellow trim at the hem. His thick mantle is subtly striped in shades of blue, cream, and green.

 

 

Probably made at the nunnery at Shaftesbury, Dorset, this psalter, with its prayers, psalms, and calendar, is the oldest manuscript in the British Library to have been made for a woman. Dating to the early 1100s, its style, called Romanesque, became popular following the first crusade. It uses vivid colors -- blue from lapis lazuli, red from vermillion, green from buckthorn berries -- and is illuminated with gold throughout.


February, Zwiefalten calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,  Stuttgart, Germany

Zwiefalten monatsbilder,
Zwiesel Monastery,  Stuttgart, Germany,
c. 1145 CE


Zwiefalten calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,  Stuttgart, GermanyAt left, a man gathers wood to add to the bound bundle he carries on his left shoulder. His hatchet  rests on his right shoulder. He wears a long-sleeved garment with an ornamented neck placket. On his right hip is what may be a strap to hold the hatchet.

The lopped limbs on the adjacent tree suggests he cut the wood, but in many forests live timber was off limits; only dead wood could be gathered for burning. But the straight rods he has gathered will probably be used as stakes rather than as fuel.

The Zwiefalten calendar or monatsbilder,  (Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v) shows the Zodiac figure and the labor for each month, in concentric circles around a central figure representing the year (see a larger image here). This calendar is now in the collections of the Wurttemberg State Library, Stuttgart, Germany. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

 Charité-sur-Loire Psalter,
British Library Harley 2895.
c.1175 CE

Two fish in the left side of this roundel are the astrological symbols for Pisces, signaling that this is the February labor. A cowled, clean-shaven man sits in a blue low-backed chair. He holds out his bare hands to a presumed fire, out of sight to the right. His feet are bare as well, and has pulled his warm brown garment to above his knees, to warm his lower legs.

 

 

 

 

 

The Charité-sur-Loire Psalter (BL Harley 2895) was created in central France c. 1175, CE. Now in the collections of the British Library, this psalter begins with a calendar whose glowing labors of the months appear as illuminated roundels.


February, Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B II, 

Psalter, British Library, Royal 2 B II,
France, c. 1250 CE


Sitting on a wide blue bench, a warmly dressed man holds his shoe over the fire to warm and perhaps dry it, his right, stockinged foot resting on his lap. He wears a short cape  or balandre over a long red garment, with an equally long under-tunic of blue. To  the right is a brick or stone wall with an arched alcove whose shelves hold stacked dishes.

 

 

 

 

 


Made in France in the first half of the 13th century, this illuminated psalter has twelve miniatures showing the labors of the months. It was written for a nun, perhaps at Nantes. It is now in the collections of the British Library.

A turbaned figure seated on the end of a bed is examining a thigh-high stocking held up by a helpful servant. His long gown has long sleeves with orange cuffs at each wrist. To the right of the scene, a fire blazes in the hooded fireplace. To the left, an orange-robed figure gestures with his left and touches the seated figure with his right.

Pink flowers decorate each corner of the scene's frame. These are dianthus -- "flower of the gods" -- a name that reflects the esteem in which it was held. The Romans used these flowers to weave floral crowns, corona, which led to the plant being known as carnations. In medieval times, dianthus were a symbol of betrothal, and the putting on of socks or shoes could be a sexual metaphor.

Dianthus petals were added to wine to impart a spicy, clove-like scent, giving them yet another of their medieval names, clowe gilofre, clove gillyflower.

The Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B VII,
made in London at Westminster
or in East Anglia( ?)
c. 1315 CE.


February, Bohun Psalter, British Library Egerton 3277

Bohun Psalter, British Library
Egerton 3277, England,
c. 1360 CE


Getting a head start on his garden, this February farmer uses a T-handled spade to turn the rich black soil. He wears a farmer's short, dark blue, long-sleeved tunic, with a red cowl over his head and shoulders, and a brimmed cap with the brim rolled up in front, but left down in back. He appears to be barelegged, but wears black shoes.


Medieval spaceWhile the soil of  larger fields were turned with plows pulled by oxen (or later by horses), smaller fields were cultivated with spades. These were made of wood, with the working tip covered with an iron "shoe" (this has rusted away on the medieval spade seen at left). Then as now, spades were used to dig in the  ground, while shovels were used as scoops to lift material from one place to another. Handles on both shovels and spades could be short or long.

 

The Bohun Psalter (Egerton 3277)) was probably made for one of the Earls of Hereford in the late 1300s, or for or for Mary de Bohun, who in 1380 married Henry of Bolingbroke. Its calendar has a dozen historiated Ks, each decorated with the  labor of that month.

 


 

 

 

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