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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 flayll I erne my brede

       ...With my flail I earn by bread


Typical September scenes:

  • Grape harvest

  • Flailing grain

  • Sowing seed for winter wheat, rye



Labors of the Month


Harvest grapes, legumes, apples, berries, and honey; plow fields for winter grains, sow wheat and rye; breed cattle.


Pulses -- legumes: beans, peas, vetches – were allowed to dry on the plants, then gathered. The leaves and stems could be stored for fodder, plowed under to enrich the soil, or left on the field for animals to graze.


Grain was flailed or threshed – beaten with a flail – to remove the seed from its chaffy covering. Once threshed, the crop was winnowed – exposed to moving air that would blow the lighter chaff away, leaving only the heavier kernels of grain behind. Winnowing was done by tossing grain on a winnowing sheet or a flat wooden tray called a shaul, or fanning it with a winnowing fan. Chaff and straw were collected for fodder. Finally, grain was sieved to remove weed seeds, and then stored securely to protect it from mice and other pests.


When the yield of milk from cows began to decline in September, they would be bred, so that they would calve in early spring. Livestock that wasn't going to be carried over the winter would be butchered or sold.


Honey and wax were gathered from beehives; hives were moved to sheltered locations and readied for winter.


Michaelmas, September 29, was the day that debts, rents, and other payments were made to the lord of the manor.

Labors of September from Early Calendars

September, Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National Library

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

Fecamp Psalter, harrowing a field; image from Wikimedia Commons
Standing above recently plowed furrows of rich soil, our September laborer uses his right hand to scatter, or broadcast, seed for winter wheat or rye. In his left hand, he holds his seed box. After he has seeded the ground, it will be harrowed to cover the seed.

Harrowing the field        

Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National LibraryThe sower wears a red, long-sleeved, knee-length tunic, belted at the waist. A gray-green mantle covers his left shoulder, arm, and even the hand that is holding the seed box. On his legs are red leggings, and short brown boots protect his feet.

Dating to the early 800s, the Salzburg monatsbilder (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,
980 CE

Standing below a vine- covered arbor, this figure holds a wide, shallow basin. He wears a tan, knee-length tunic, and a reddish mantle fastened with a round brooch on his right shoulder.


At right is a calendar page from the Fulda Sacramentary. In the center is Annus, the year. In each corner is a season, and the twelve months are arranged in two vertical 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.

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

A bare-chested, bare-footed man in red trousers uses a flail to thresh the grain that is spread on the floor at his feet. Behind him and barely seen is another thresher. To their left, a large, rodent-proof jar suggests how the grain will be stored after it has been threshed and winnowed.


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

Using his bunched mantle as a seed bag, this sower broadcasts seed with his left hand. A tall plant with clover-like trefoil leaves stands above the scattered seed on the ground.

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 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.

Hunterian Psalter ,
Glasgow Library,
c. 1170 CE

A man and a woman pick grapes from a very odd grapevine. The man carries an open basket on his right shoulder, and has a second basket suspended from his left arm by its handle. The white-coifed woman sits below him, picking the low-hanging fruit and putting it into a basket identical to the open basket carried by her partner.

The heavily pruned grape vine is taller than the man, and appears to bear both grapes and small red fruit that could be crabapples or large cherries.



The late 12th century Hunterian Psalter (Glasgow University MS Hunter U.3.2 [229]), 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, but it may have originated in England, perhaps at Canterbury or York. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

 Charité-sur-Loire Psalter,
France, c. 1175 CE

A bearded vintner, sitting on a pillow or perhaps a boulder,  uses a knife to harvest grapes from their vine, putting the purple fruit in a small bowl or basket at his knee. He wears a mid-length red tunic with long sleeves, purple leggings, and brown boots. At his back stands a purple-coifed woman who represents the Virgo of the Zodiac.



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.


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

In this September labor, workers cooperate to process grapes into juice. In a large wooden vat stands a man dressed in a red tunic that he has tucked into his belt to keep it dry. He reaches across the vat to pull grapes out of the carrying basket of his co-worker. The basket is strapped onto the back of the white-capped man in a blue tunic. That second man balances his weighty, off-center load by leaning heavily on his walking stick.



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.

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

Here again we have the grape treader in the wooden vat, while a second worker approaches with a heavy basket full of grapes on his shoulder. As he lumbers toward the barrel, he samples a handful of grapes.

Below, vineyard laborers harvest grapes, putting the fruit in smaller, shallow baskets with handles. One picker eats grapes while the other looks on with disapproval.





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. This MS is now in the collections of the National Library of the Netherlands, Den Haag. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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

Here again we have an enormous wine "press" in which human feet provide the pressure. Two men stand inside, their tunics and braies tucked up well above the level of the juice. At either side, two more men carry heavy baskets of grapes on their backs, though these baskets appear to be made of wooden splints, rather than wickerwork.


Braies -->

It may seem surprising that vineyards so frequently appear in labors of the months for Britain, but we know that in the first century CE there were vineyards in Britain, as well France and Spain. The Romans had actually passed legislation limiting grape production in those three regions in order to protect Italian wines. Vineyards continued to be cultivated in Britain over the centuries; the Domesday Book records the existence of 46 definite vineyards in southern England, with four more a possibility.






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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