With my sythe my
mede I mawe
...With my scythe my meadow I mow
Man weeding with crotch and sickle;
Church of St. Mary and St. Michael,
Malvern, c. 1400.
Labors of the Month
Continue hay making, sheep-shearing, weeding; harvest
flax and hemp.
Weeding began in earnest in July; common weeds included
arvensis), corn cockle (agrostemma githago), corn marigold (glebionis/chrysanthemum segetum),
cyanus), field poppies (papaver
dock (rumex obtusifolius), nettle (urtica dioica), and several
varieties of thistle.
Weeding was typically not done with a hoe, but with a pair of
long sticks, one with a Y-shaped tip called a crotch; the other
with a sharp curved blade called a sickle attached to one end. The
weed stem was held in place by the crotch and
cut off at ground level with the sickle.
Winter wheat and rye were
harvested first, then barley and oats. The Christian
church took one sheaf of every ten through a religious
tax called a tithe.
Because the supplies of stored food from the previous
year were now running low, July was a lean month, and
gathering wild foods helped fill hungry mouths.
Labors of July from Early Calendars
Salzburg labors of the
from St. Peter's
c. . 818 AD.
The figure for JUL, July, in the Salzburg calendar carries his scythe over
his left shoulder, grasping it by it's long handle or snaithe. Using such
scythes, a team of
men could cut about an acre a day.
The mower seen here is the
only figure in this monatsbilder to wear trousers, called braies,
and to go barefoot, though walking on stubble must have been uncomfortable. His
knee-length red tunic has long sleeves, and he wears a blue mantle over his left
shoulder, fastened on the right with a round brooch.
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.
Das Reichenauer Martyrologium
(Cod. Reg. Lat. 438),
c. 830 CE
July's mower vigorously swings a long-handled
scythe. He wears a short, long-sleeved red
tunic, belted at the waist. Suspended from his
belt is a holstered whetstone, which will be
used to keep his scythe sharp.
The mower shares the scene with several other
figures. The strange looking creature by his
left knee is a crab, sign of the Zodiac for
Two peacocks perch watchfully on the peak
of the roof above the mower's head; below are
two foxes. It may be that the peacocks are
acting (then as now) as watchmen, a trait that
Isidore wrote about in his 7th century
The pavo [peacock]
gets is name from the sound of its cry, for when
it abruptly starts to call, it alarms its
hearers. The peacock is thus named pavo,
from pavoi, fear, since its cry creates
fear in those who hear it.
Below the mower's feet are two men
with disabilities. The man to the left holds a
crutch in each hand; a bent-backed figure
crouches below the column to the right.
scene appears in a calendar in the 9th century martyrology
of Wandalbert, a Benedictine monk at the German
abbey of Prüm. The manuscript is now at the
Vatican Library in Rome. This
image is from
Carrying his scythe the hatless mower of the
is barefoot, and wears a knee-length tunic. A
red mantle covers his left shoulder, and is
fastened at the right shoulder with a round
To the right is the Fulda
Sacramentary fragment. In the center is Annus, the year.
In each corner is a season, and the twelve months
are portrayed in vertical columns, six months to the
left and six to the right. Day and night are in
the round medallions top and bottom.
c. 1135 CE
Three men stand beside a haystack. The barefoot man in front, wearing a long, red-striped tunic, is using a
wooden, multi-tined hay rake to
shape the green stack. Behind him are two other workers. In this illustration, the stack is under a roof and out
of the weather.
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
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
Zwiefalten calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,
c. 1145 CE
Parts of a scythe
Zwiefalten laborer is
sharpening his scythe with a whetstone. Clearly
visible is the joining of the scythe's tanged blade to
the wooden snaithe or handle.
Zwiefalten monatsbilder, (Cod hist 2° 415,
fol.17v) shows the labor for each
month, often accompanied by a figure from the
Zodiac, 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.
July, from the Cathedral Basilica
of our Lady of Amiens,
c. 1250 CE
Wearing long trousers that are rolled at the waist, ths bare-shouldered reaper
is shown in an arch on the west facade of Amiens cathedral. He gathers the heads of grain into one
hand and cuts them loose with a sickle held in the other. Behind him are
neatly tied sheaves of grain, which will be gathered into larger stooks and left
to dry in the field before being loaded
onto a wagon and hauled to the farmstead for thrashing.
Amiens cathedral, the largest surviving Gothic
cathedral in France, was begun in 1220 and
completed fifty years later, in 1270 CE. The
labors of the month appear in two sets of
quatrefoil rows on its west facade. The
upper row in each set are images from the
Zodiac; the lower row contains the labors of
the months. This image is from Wikimedia
British Library Harley 2895.
With the sign of
Leo behind him, a reaper repeats the scene above, gathering a handful of grain
and cutting it loose with his sickle. At his feet are sheaves of tied grain,
left for others to add to the stooks in the field.
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, made
c. 1180 CE; now in National
Library of the Netherlands
Weeding with a crotch and sickle,
this solemn laborer wears a unique, hawk-headed
cap that may be made of basketry, perhaps
decorated with feathers. His long-sleeved red
tunic is belted loosely at the waist, and
reaches just to his knees; he is barelegged, but
does have shoes and short, cross-gartered
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 Wiki Commons.
Royal 2 B II, France,
c. 1250 CE
stiff, broad-brimmed hat and a long-sleeved blue tunic, this reaper grasps the
grain with his left hand, and uses a large sickle to cut it.
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.
combination of labors is seen in this scene from the
Queen Mary Psalter, with three men
weeding with crotch and sickle amidst the cut grass
of the meadow, while a woman carries a stook
of grain on her head.
of the three men have bared their legs by tucking
their tunics into their belts in order to move more
freely; the man to the right has simply worn a
shorter tunic. The woman wears a very long, pale
gown; it is somewhat rare to see women portrayed in
the labors of the months, and they always wear floor-length tunics.
Queen Mary Psalter,
British Library Royal
2 B VII, made in London at Westminster
or perhaps in East
c. 1315 CE.
England, c. 1360 CE
A long-haired man
in a soft cap, blue tunic, and red leggings is using a wide-bladed scythe to mow
a crop that could be either grain or grass.
Psalter 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
Ks like the one seen here to the left of
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),