Here I sette my
Here I set my
starts to spring
Pruning trees and vines
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,
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
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.
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
Labors of March from Early Calendars
Salzburg Labors of the
Abbey of St. Peter, c. 818 CE
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
Carmina Salisburgensia, c. 850 CE
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.
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
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
Wine was an important beverage at a time when
water often harbored disease; grapes were
grown throughout Europe, as well as in southern
The calendar page
(above) from the Fulda Sacramentary fragment
(see larger image
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.
vigorous laborers are hard at work in this scene for
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.
British Library Cotton
Tiberius B.V. Part I
England [Winchester?], c.
In the center, a man in a red tunic wields a
mattock to break up clods.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
c. 1170 CE
Working 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
at the neck, he wears short black boots on his
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 )) 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.
British Library Harley 2895,
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
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
Fécamp Psalter, Normandy,
in the National
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
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
conical 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
Royal 2 B II, France,
c. 1250 CE
A 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal
2 B VII, made in London at Westminster
or in East
c. 1315 CE.