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OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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With my sythe my mede I mawe
   ...With my scythe my meadow I mow


Typical July scenes:

  • Cutting wheat or grass with a scythe

  • Reaping grain with a sickle

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 charlock (sinapis arvensis), corn cockle (agrostemma githago), corn marigold (glebionis/chrysanthemum segetum), cornflower (centaurea cyanus), field poppies (papaver rhoeas), 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

July, Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National Library

Salzburg labors of the months,
from St. Peter's Abbey, Austria,
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.

Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National LibraryThe 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.

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.

Wandalbert von Prüm,
Das Reichenauer Martyrologium
(Cod. Reg. Lat. 438),
Germany 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 Cancer.

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 Etymologies:

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.

This 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 Wikimedia Commons.

Fulda Sacramentary,
980 CE

Carrying his scythe the hatless mower of the Fulda Sacramentary 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 brooch.

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.

Shaftesbury Psalter,
British Library Lansdowne 383,
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.

Hay rake

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 calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,
Stuttgart, Germany,
c. 1145 CE

Parts of a scythe


Scythe components; image from Wikimedia Commons1. Toe

2. Chine

3. Beard

4. Heel

5. Tang

6. Ring

7. Snaith

8. Grips





Our 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.




The 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 Commons.

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

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.




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, made in Normandy,
c. 1180 CE
; now in National
Library of the Netherlands

Hawk-headed capWeeding 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 stockings.


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 Wiki Commons.

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

Wearing a 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.

A 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.

Two 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 pink gown; it is somewhat rare to see women portrayed in the labors of the months, and they always wear floor-length tunics.

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


Bohun Psalter,
British Library Egerton 3277,
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.




The Bohun 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 historiated Ks like the one seen here to the left of the farmer.







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
well i-know

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

At Martynesmasse
I kylle my swyne

And at Christes masse
I drynke redde wyne

Oxford, BL Digby 88 (SC1689),
1450 CE


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