And here I here
...And here I hear the fowls sing
Harrowing a field,
from the Fécamp Psalter
Labors of the Month
Spring sowing and harrowing; plant flax and hemp for fiber; start
household gardens; plant coleworts, potherbs.
started in early April when the soil was soft enough to turn easily. Spring crops
were barley, oats, beans, peas, and vetches.
– barley and oats – were broadcast; it took
some four bushels of seed per acre. Legumes – beans,
peas, and vetches – were “dibbled in” by poking a hole
into the soft soil with a dibbler stick, then dropping in
the seed. About three bushels of beans or peas would plant
Once a field was planted, it was harrowed by dragging a toothed
implement like a giant rake across the
soil to cover the seed.
Calving continued. In
order to have milk over a longer period, farmers
wouldn't allow all cows to breed at the same time during the preceding fall,
so calves would arrive over a period of several months
in the spring. As calves and lambs were weaned, dairy
work began, producing cheese and butter. Pigs
began to farrow (have piglets) now, and any leftover food
from man or beast went to them.
Important Christian holy days included Lent and Easter.
In Old English the
meant "springtime"; Easter
is named for the Anglo-Saxon goddess
whose roots go back to
of the dawn.
Labors of April from Early Calendars
Salzburg Labors of the
from St. Peter's
Austria, c. 818 AD.
Gone are the heavy
mantles worn by the figures for the winter
months. The smiling figure for APR, April,
holds a sheaf of tall green grass in his right
hand, and gestures with his left toward a
bird nesting atop a budding tree. The
figure's long-sleeved, knee-length tunic is
blue and red, and is belted at the waist. A
suggestion of braies, short white trousers,
can be seen at the knee. The young man wears criss-cross bindings over his leggings, and
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.
Holding two flowering
branches, and standing with flowers on
either side, April's classical figure clearly
welcomes spring (sadly, the plants are too
indistinct to be identified). The elegant, bearded man wears a rich
blue mantle that reaches to mid-calf. Beneath
it is a golden tunic, worn over an under-tunic with purple sleeves.
brown leggings have bindings to mid-calf.
He stands beneath a low arch supported by two
At right is the 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
Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library
c. 1135 CE
with unusually long, red hair is our laborer
for April. He wears an elaborate hat
or flowery crown, and holds a large,
long-stemmed flower in his right hand. His
ankle-length robe is slit to the waist,
revealing red leggings and shoes. Flowers
surround him, with two blossoming at the
peak of the roof above him, and three more
flourishing to the right of the structure. Two of
those flowers contain faces; one is blue and
possibly human. The other, green and possibly
canine, has a long, curling tongue.
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 particularly vivid colors -- blue
from lapis lazuli, red from vermillion,
green from buckthorn berries; and is
illuminated with gold throughout.
c. 1145 CE
two young men labor in a vineyard. On the left,
rather than the zodiac sign for this month
(which would be either Taurus or Aries), we see
a young man holding what appear to be two branches with
buds at the top, their lower ends in a narrow
vessel -- probably cuttings to be used as grafts
or as transplants. The curly-haired man to the right is
tying a vine to a tall stake. Both wear long-sleeved tunics that
belted at the waist, with
embroidered plackets at the neck.
Zwiefalten calendar or monatsbilder,
(Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v) shows the zodiac
figure and 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.
Fécamp Psalter, made
c. 1180 CE;
now in National
of the Netherlands
Wearing a floral crown, a regal figure
delicately holds an upright, flowering branch
like a scepter in his right hand. (We know the
figure is male because women are never portrayed
with gowns open at the front to show so much
Our king wears
a red, ermine-lined mantle that drapes casually
over his shoulders; then loops over his left
arm to be held in place by his left
hand. His long-sleeved, ankle-length black surcoat is lined in
patterned fabric, and has a decorated placket at
the neck. This surcoat is open in front to
the buckled belt at his waist, much like the garment seen
above in the
Shaftesbury Psalter. Beneath is a white
undergarment that reaches to just above his knees. On his
legs are patterned red stockings, and he wears
black shoes, open over the top of the
foot to fasten at the ankle, and having pointed
He stands on a raised brown mound. Behind
him is a golden panel, set against a dark blue
background sprigged with white tendrils that
look very much like newly sprouted seeds.
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.
Psalter, British Library,
Royal 2 B II, France,
c. 1250 CE
This jaunty figure holds two leafy branches,
and stands amidst blooming flowers. His
ankle length, parti-colored garment of red and blue has a
deeply dagged hem; he wears black stockings and shoes.
at his feet could well be single-flowered roses.
Roses, c. 1300 CE
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.
Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal
2 B VII,
made in London at Westminster,
or in East
Anglia( ?) ,
c. 1315 CE.
In this breezy scene, five women gaily gather
flowers. The woman to the left, in the tan
gown, places a flowery garland on
her head. Beside her to the right, a woman in a
red gown picks a six-petalled flower from the green hillside.
the center a woman in pale green also holds a chapelet of
flowers. At her feet, a woman wearing an armless
pink surcoat over a dark blue, long-sleeved under-tunic
is gathering what appear to be pink clover blossoms
(though the leaves are not the trefoil leaves of
clover). Behind her, a woman in a red surcoat, slit to the waist to show
under-tunic, holds up a garland for approval.
At each of the four corners of this
scene are trefoil clover leaves or shamrocks. The
comes from Gaelic seamróg, "little
or young clover," a plant that often appears in Old Irish
descriptions of flowering plains (mag
The apocryphal story linking the Trinity, St.
Patrick, and the shamrock doesn't appear until the
17th century. But long before Patrick, the three-leaved clover was believed
to avert evil. When its leaves constricted
in and upward, clover foretold storms. Three was a
number of wholeness, of completion; clover
was sacred to the Triple Goddesses, and later to
Bohun Psalter, British Library
Egerton 3277, England,
c. 1360 CE
In the Bohun Psalter, April's labor shows a young woman
holding a bouquet of long-stemmed red
flowers in each hand. She has blonde hair,
worn unbound and uncovered, and wears an
ankle-length pink gown with long sleeves.
Though the flowers are indistinct, their shape
and black centers suggest they are Papaver
rhoeas, field poppies (also known as
corn roses). Ceres,
Roman goddess of grain, was often shown
wearing a crown of of these lovely red
Psalter (Egerton 3277) was probably made for
one of the Earls of Hereford in the late 1300s,
or for Mary de Bohun, who in 1380 married Henry
of Bolingbroke. Its calendar has a dozen
the labors of the months.
Here, the K appears to the left of the poppy-holding
Labors of the Months
By thys fyre
I warme my handys
And with my spade
I delfe my landys
Here I sette
my thinge to sprynge
And here I here
the fowlis synge
I am as lyght
as byrde in bowe
And I wede my corne
With my sythe
my mede I mawe
And here I shere
my corne full lowe
With my flayll
I erne my brede
And here I sawe
my whete so rede
I kylle my swyne
And at Christes masse
I drynke redde wyne
Oxford, BL Digby 88 (SC1689),