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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June

   I wede my corne well i-know
     ...I weed my grain well enough

 

Typical June scenes:

  • Cutting hay

  • Weeding

  • Plowing

 

 

July, Wandelbert of Prim marytyrology   August, Zweifalten calendar, c. 1125 CE

Scythe,  850 CE

 

Sickle, 1125 CE

Labors of the Month

 

Make hay, plow fallow fields for the second time; shear sheep.

 

Haymaking began on St. Barnabas’ Day, June 11. Then as now, putting by a good supply of hay was essential if livestock was to survive through the winter. Hay was cut in meadows (pastures were grazed) that were often communal property, and harvesting them was a shared endeavor.


Scythes with long snaiths (handles), like the one shown at left, were used to cut the tall grass; teams of men could cut about an acre of hay a day. During the following days, women and children would turn the hay with pitchforks or rakes, leaving it in long parallel windrows to dry, before it was gathered up and piled into haystacks. Once mown, hay meadows were then grazed, but no sooner than a month after the grass had been cut so that it had time to recover.

 

Plowing was also an early summer labor, for the second plowing of fallow (unplanted) fields was often done at this time, to keep weeds at bay. Stock was allowed to graze the fallow field before and after plowing, and in the process would manure the ground.  

 

Sheep shearing was typically delayed until June, so that the sheep and lambs could regrow their warm coats before cold weather arrived in the fall.

Labors of June from Early Calendars


June, Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National Library

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

 

 

 

Medieval cattle were much smaller than modern breeds, as seen here in this June labor from the Salzburg calendar. These two small oxen pull an ard plow with no coulter or moldboard. An ard plow cut a slit in the soil to receive the seed, but did not turn the sod over, as would have been done with a moldboard plow. The oxen wear collars, to which are fastened the plow's traces.

Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National LibraryThe plowman grasps his plow on either arm of its broad, Y-shaped handle. He wears a long-sleeved, knee-length brown tunic that is belted at the waist. Its neckline is notched and stitched. On his legs are leggings secured by bindings, and he wears black shoes.

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.

Fulda Sacramentary, Germany, 980 CE

Fulda Sacramentary,
Fulda, Germany
,

980 CE

 

Rather than weeding with a hoe, this medieval farmer from the Fulda Sacramentary uses a crotch (a long stick with a Y-shaped end) and sickle (a long stick with a small, sharp sickle blade fastened to the end). His blue cloak hangs on a hook to his right; he wears a knee-length brown tunic and green leggings and shoes. The weed he is cutting down is a flowering a thistle.

At right is the calendar page from the Fulda Sacramentary. 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.


Standing on a small outcrop at the left of this busy scene from the Anglo-Saxon Calendar, a well-dressed man is sounding a horn. At his feet, a team of seven fieldworkers labor to bring the harvest home. Leading the way, three reapers cut handfuls of grain with their short-handled sickles. A fourth man in a yellow tunic binds the grain; just behind him, a grey-clad worker clutching a finished stook (a bundle of stalks of grain) is climbing onto the tongue of a round-wheeled, high-sided wagon. Another man has just surrendered his stook to the two-tined wooden pitchfork of a man standing at the back of the wagon.


June, Anglo-Saxon calendar, BL Cotton Tiberius V.V.i

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

June, Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library Lansdowne 383

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

The Shaftesbury Psalter presents for June a three-man scything team working its way across a tall-grass meadow. Shirtless in the warm June sunlight, the men each wear long, baggy trousers, rolled at the waist and the ankles. They are barefoot; the laborer in the foreground has strangely green hair; the man in the middle is bearded; and the open-mouthed worker at the back appears to be breathing hard with exertion.

 


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.


June, Cathedral Basilica of our Lady of Amiens, c. 1250 CE

June, from the Cathedral of Our Lady
of Amiens, France

c. 1250 CE


As seen on the west facade of the cathedral of Amiens, the blade of this reaper's scythe nestles in a curve of the quatrefoil, making it harder to see, but this laborer is indeed cutting hay. He too is bare-chested, and wears baggy trousers that have been pulled up to tuck beneath his belt. He is barefoot, but wears a cap on his head. At the end of the snaithe, or handle, of his scythe is a triangular attachment of unknown function.

 

 

 


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 sets of quatrefoil rows on its west facade. The upper rows in each set are images from the Zodiac; the lower rows contain the labors of the months. This image is from Wikimedia Commons.
 

June, Zwiefalten, Stuttgart, Germany, c. 1145 CE

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

A plowman carries a small plow over his shoulder in this June labor from the Zwiefalten calendar. The parts of the plow are clearly visible. On the left half of the plow beam, the coulter, whose blade cuts into the soil ahead of the plowshare, extends knife-like through the full thickness of the beam. Just to the right of the coulter is the sharp point of the iron-shod plowshare.

Zwiefalten, Stuttgart, Germany, c. 1145 CEThe plowman holds something in his right hand, perhaps the traces, rolled into a tight coil, that will be used to attach the plow to the collars on the oxen that pull it.

With his left hand, he grips the plow just below its Y-shaped handle. 

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 who represents 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

Hunterian Psalter ,
Glasgow Library,
c. 1170 CE


Two men use crotches and sickles to weed corn poppies. Both wear long tunics, belted at the waist. The man on the left wears a broad-brimmed hat, red stockings, and soft brown boots. The worker on the right has no hat; his green tunic has red trim at the neck, and appears to be lined with red fabric as well.

Crotch and sickle used for weeding
The Y-shaped crotch and
the sickle used to cut weeds


The late 12th century Hunterian Psalter (Glasgow University MS Hunter U.3.2 [229]), AKA the York Psalter, contains Romanesque illustrations of the labors of the months. It may have originated at Canterbury or at York.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.
 

June, Charité-sur-Loire Psalter, British Library Harley 2895

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

The strange creature at the left of this laborer is a crab -- clearly something the artist had never seen -- which is the Zodiac sign for Cancer. The reaper to the right uses a scythe. He is shirtless, wears baggy braies on top of red leggings that are rolled at the ankle, and is barefooted.

 

 

 

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.


Psalter, British Library, Royal 2 B II, France

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


A white-capped mower gracefully swings his scythe in this illumination from the psalter of Royal 2 B II. He wears a knee-length red tunic that belts at the waist and is split in front to permit easy movement. His baggy braies, are white, and he has red stockings and black shoes.

The scythe

Scythe components; image from Wikimedia Commons

1. Toe

2. Chine

3. Beard

4. Heel

5. Tang

6. Ring

7. Snaith

8. Grips

 


Made in France in the first half of the 13th century, the illuminated psalter of Royal 2 B II 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.

In this scene from the Queen Mary Psalter, Three mowers working in the short grass of a meadow, and in rather close proximity, considering the reach of their scythes. The men to the left and right have tucked the hems of their long tunics into their belts to make it easier to work. The mower in the center wears a shorter red tunic, and has a scarf around his neck. It appears that all three are barelegged, and of the feet we can see, all are shod. Two of the men have caps; all three are wearing long sleeves. The man in the center appears to be catching his breath as he leans wearily on his scythe.

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


June, Bohun Psalter, British Library Egerton 3277

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


This elegantly attired gardener from the Bohun Psalter wears a loose, half-sleeved red surcoat over a blue long-sleeved under-tunic. He wields a crotch in one hand and a sickle in the other to weed his garden. On his head is a hat whose broad brim has been turned up in the back, and under that a red scarf. He wears blue leggings, and soft brown boots.

 

 

 

The Bohun 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 historiated Ks (seen here to the left of the gardener) that are decorated with the  labors of the months.
 

The uncropped Bohun Psalter's historiated initial for the month of June.

 June, Bohun Psalter, British Library Egerton 3277

 

 

 

Labors of the Months

Januar
By thys fyre
I warme my handys

Februar
And with my spade
I delfe my landys

Marche
Here I sette
my  thinge to sprynge

Aprile
And here I here
the fowlis synge

Maij
I am as lyght
as byrde in bowe

Junij
And I wede my corne
well i-know

Julij
With my sythe
my mede I mawe

Auguste
And here I shere
my corne full lowe

September
With my flayll
I erne my brede

October
And here I sawe
my whete so rede

November
At Martynesmasse
I kylle my swyne

December
And at Christes masse
I drynke redde wyne


Oxford, BL Digby 88 (SC1689),
1450 CE

 

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