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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March
   Here I sette my thinge to spryng
      Here I set my starts to spring

 

Typical March scenes:

  • Pruning trees and vines

  • Digging

 

Charité- sur- Loire Psalter, British Library Harley 2895

Labors of the Month


Prepare fields for plowing and planting; plow fallow fields; begin sowing spring grain; calving continues

Until the 1700s, people who made their living as farmers – which was nearly everyone – started their New Year on Lady Day, March 25.

Unplanted fields being given a rest were called fallow fields --a three-field farming cycle called for leaving a third of the fields unplanted each season. During the time it was fallow, the field would be plowed two or three times to control weeds and to incorporate organic matter into the soil. After each plowing, weeds would spring up, and livestock would be allowed to graze the field -- and would manure it at the same time.

Once calves are weaned, in late March or early April, cows could be milked twice a day, morning and evening. Sheep were also milked once their lambs had been weaned.

Hens start laying eggs when they are 5-6 months old, so long as they are getting at least 12 hours of daylight each day, which would happen just after the spring equinox in March. They reach peak egg production with 15 hours of daylight, and stop laying when hours of daylight drop to fewer than 12, around the time of the autumn equinox in late September.

Labors of March from Early Calendars


March, Salzburg Labors of the Months, Austrian National Museum

Salzburg Labors of the Months, from the
Abbey of St. Peter, c. 818 CE

 

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.
 

Martius educit serpentes, alite gaude
Frondibus atque suis tempora laeta vocat.

March brings snakes, a bird celebrates
branches and happy times with his calls.

Carmina Salisburgensia, c. 850 CE
 


Salzburg Labors of the Months, Austrian National MuseumThe illustrated labor for March shows a man holding a snake in his left hand, its tail nearest his body. His right hand is raised, and a bird rests on its palm.  He wears a dark mantle draped over his left shoulder and pinned above his right. His knee-length, long-sleeved tunic is red, as are his leggings and shoes.

 

The Romans associated snakes with healing, wisdom, and fertility, and honored them as guardians of the home; the Celts associated them with the goddess Brighid and with healing waters. According to tradition, two of the first signs of spring were the emergence of snakes from their winter hibernacula, and the return of the ravens to their nests:

 

La Bride breith an earraich Thig an dearrais as an tom...  
Cuirear fitheach chon na nide...

…the first day of Spring,
The snake comes out of the hill…
The raven prepares the nest...

Carmina Gadelica

March, Fulda Sacramentary, Germany

Fulda Sacramentary,
Fulda, Germany,
980 CE

Kneeling on hilly ground beside a vine, this laborer for March wields a pruning knife. He is dressed in a short purple cape that comes to his knees; beneath it is a green tunic. He appears to be wearing knee-high yellow boots.

Wine was an important beverage at a time when water often harbored disease; grapes were grown throughout Europe, as well as in southern Britain.

The calendar page (above) from the Fulda Sacramentary fragment (see larger image here). In the center is Annus, the year, with Day above him and Night, below, in round medallions. In each corner is one of the four seasons, and the labors for the twelve months are arranged in columns at either side, six to the left and six to the right. Image from Wikimedia Commons.


Three vigorous laborers are hard at work in this scene for March. On the left, a man wearing a farmer's short blue tunic is digging in neat rows with a long-handled, lop-sided, iron-shod spade.

Medieval spades, Wikimedia Commons

 


Early spades


March, British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V.i.

Anglo-Saxon Calendar,
British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part I
England [Winchester?], c. 1050

13th century sower, Wikimedia CommonsMattock

In the center, a man in a red tunic wields a mattock to break up clods.

Medieval mattock

 

At the far right, a man in a white tunic, with a seed bag (in Britain called a seed-lip) suspended from a belt at his waist, broadcasts seed with his right hand while reaching into the bag for more with his left. Unlike the other two men, he is barefoot. The ground beneath his feet appears to be evenly broken up and ready for the seed.

Sower, c. 1300 CE   
 

March, Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library Lansdowne 383
 

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

One of the Anglo-Saxon names for March is Hlyd, "loud, boisterous," and the image of a man sounding a horn may refer to that trait, for March was often a blustery, changeable month, then as now.

March marked the beginning of both the agricultural and the military year, and another allusion here would be a Roman ceremony, Tubilustrium, observed on March 23. This ceremony involved the blowing of sacred trumpets, or tubae, celebrating the readiness of the armies for war. Our March laborer holds the horn high with his left hand, and grips a spear in his right, reinforcing the connection with Tubilustrium.

His tousled hair and rough beard add to the sense of gusty disruption. He wears a long-sleeved blue garment that appears to incorporate trousers reaching to mid-shin, or the hem of  his robe may simply have been gathered up between his legs from the back, and then tucked into a low-slung belt. At his wrists we can see the cuffs of a white undergarment. His leggings are striped red and white, as are his shoes.

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, 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.


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


A fisherman holding a trident in his right hand and a fish on a line in his left is the first figure for Marcius, March in the Zwiefalten calendar. It represents Pisces, a sign of the zodiac.

To the right is a man pruning a grapevine; the vine is clearly tied to a vertical stake. Both men wear long-sleeved garments belted just below the waist.
 

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.
 

Hunterian Psalter, Glasgow Library; image from Wikimedia Commons

Hunterian Psalter,
Glasgow Library,
 c. 1170 CE

Iron-footed spade from Canterbury Cathedral windowWorking barelegged in the cool March weather, this bearded man cultivates the soil beneath a pollard tree. He uses a short, D-handled spade to neatly turn the soil. Dressed in an ankle-length red tunic, belted at the waist and with contrasting trim at the neck, he wears short black boots on his feet.

At right, an iron-shod, D-handled spade shown in a stained glass window at Canterbury Cathedral, 1176 CE.
 

The late 12th century Hunterian Psalter (Glasgow University MS Hunter U.3.2 [229])) AKA the York Psalter, opens with a calendar in which each month's KL, for kalendae, contains a Romanesque illustration of the labor for that month. It isn't known where this manuscript was created; it  may have originated in England, perhaps at Canterbury or at York. Images from Wiki Commons.


Charité- sur- Loire Psalter, British Library Harley 2895

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

 


A smiling Aries, the Ram, astrological symbol for March, stands to the left of this bare-legged forester, its horns touching the leaves of the over-arching tree. The man wears a long-sleeved, knee-length blue tunic. On his feet are soft, buckskin-colored boots. He holds a billhook in his right hand, while with his left he pulls down the branch to be pruned.


 

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.

Fécamp Psalter, Normandy, National Library 
of the Netherlands; image from Wikimedia Commons

Fécamp Psalter, Normandy, now
in the National Library
of the Netherlands
, c. 1180 CE

Allowing a full page for images, this 12th century Norman psalter provided its artist with a notable opportunity to portray ordinary people at work.

 

In the upper frame, two men work in the vineyard. The bearded man to the left uses a billhook to prune a vine, while the man on the right, his billhook tucked into his belt, ties the trimmed vines to vertical stakes.  Both men wear knee-length tunics. The man to the left is more warmly dressed, weaering a hood and beneath it a white cap; a long-sleeved blue garment under his red tunic; blue leggings, gray socks, and black shoes. The man on the right, wearing a short, dark blue tunic,  is barelegged, but also wears gray socks and black shoes.        

 

In the lower frame, a barelegged man uses a T-handled spade to dig up a tall vine, very similar in appearance to the vines in the upper frame. On the right, a hooded man waits with a sturdy Medieval, T=handled spadeconical pack basket on his back. It has an ingenious single "leg" to help support the weight of the load. The man also has a sturdy walking stick, and wears green leggings and black shoes. It may be that he will carry transplants to their new location in the basket on his back.

Medieval T-handled spade


The Fécamp Psalter (KB 76) was made for a woman in Normandy in the late 12th century. Unlike most psalters, its calendar provides colorful, full page images for the labors of the months. It is now in the collections of the National Library of the Netherlands, Den Haag. Image from Wikimedia Commons.


March, Psalter, British Library, Royal 2 B II

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

Billhooks, Wikimedia CommonsA bearded worker wearing white gauntlets on his hands uses a curved, broad-bladed billhook to prune the branches rising above the stool of a coppiced tree. His short, reddish cowl comes to his waist; it is open to the shoulders so that his arms are free. His calf-length blue tunic is belted at the waist. He wears red leggings, and black shoes on his feet.

Billhooks              


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.

May, from the Cathedral Basilica of our Lady of Amiens; image from Wikimedia Commons
May, from the Cathedral Basilica
of our Lady of Amiens,
c. 1250 CE

Laboring in a March vineyard, his tunic tucked out of the way in his waistband, this booted worker wears a head covering that is knotted at the back of his neck. He uses a short, T-handled spade to turn the soil at the base of a staked vine; behind his back is another vine. Turning the soil helped to aerate it, and also to destroy weeds.


 


Amiens cathedral, the largest surviving Gothic cathedral in France, was begun in 1220 and completed fifty years later. The labors of the month appear in two rows of quatrefoils on its west facade. The upper row in each set is made up of images from the Zodiac; the lower row contains the labors of the months. This image is from Wikimedia Commons.


Here, three men use billhooks to shape several small trees. The ground beneath the trees shows no green yet.

 

The red-caped man to the left wears a soft cap with a turned brim, a blue tunic that comes to just below his knees, and over it a short red cape. His legs appear to be bare, and he wears soft gray boots. He stretches to reach a high branch, wielding a pruning knife.

 

In the center of the scene, a man in a long-sleeved blue tunic and a soft gray hat bends to grasp a sapling with his left hand, and holds a cord in his right, with which he is tying the sapling to a stake.

 

At the right, a hatless man holds a waist-high branch in his right hand, and a tool of some sort, perhaps a pruning knife, in his left. He wears a long-sleeved brown tunic and soft brown boots.
 


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

 

 

 

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