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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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   Here I sawe my whete so rede
     ...Here I sow my wheat so red


Typical October scenes:

  • Plowing and sowing

  • Harvesting or treading grapes

Labors of the Month


Sow winter grains; harvest grapes for wine and verjuice; breed sheep; let pigs forage for mast in the woodlands; begin to thresh and winnow grain


Fields left fallow were now plowed for the last time, and then sown with wheat and rye. Wild fruits and nuts were gathered and preserved. Mast crops -- beechnuts, hazel nuts, hawes, and acorns -- were monitored; when nut drop began, swineherds drove their hogs into the woodlands to forage.

Labors of October from Early Calendars

October, Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National Library

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

Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National Library

October is a vintner's month, with grapes to pick and process to make not only wine, but also a very popular vinegary condiment called verjuice.

At left, a laborer grips a stylized grapevine with one hand, and with the other lowers a bunch of newly picked grapes into small bag suspended above a barrel. He is making verjuice. The bag will be squeezed to force the juice from the grapes, much like a jelly bag, while straining out stems, skin, and other debris. The clear juice will drain into the storage container below.

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. Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Fulda Sacramentary,
980 CE

A barefoot sower wears a short, green, long-sleeved tunic. A strap around his neck supports his seed bag, which he cradles in his right hand. With his left, he carefully broadcasts seed onto the green ground at his feet.

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 arranged in vertical columns, six 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

A long-haired, shirtless man pulls a large cluster of grapes over and into the green wine vat, ready to be stomped to release the juice. Stylized grape vines curs around a pillar to the left of the vat.



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 employs unusually vivid colors -- blue from lapis lazuli, red from vermillion, green from buckthorn berries; and is illuminated with gold throughout.

October, Zwiefalten calendar

Zwiefalten calendar,
Stuttgart, Germany,
c. 1145 CE

This vintner scrutinizes a cluster of grapes before putting it into the full basket he carries suspended by its handle from the stick resting on his right shoulder. To the right, a vine, tied to a vertical post, bears a heavy crop of grapes, some red and and some black.

The Zwiefalten 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.

October, from the Cathedral Basilica
of Our Lady of Amiens,
c. 1250 CE

Wearing a short, long-sleeved tunic and carrying his seed in a bag suspended from a cord around his neck, this bearded sower broadcasts seed with his right hand.









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 contains images from the Zodiac; the lower row contains the labors of the months. Image from Wikimedia Commons.


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

Using his left hand to grasp one side of a very full seed pouch suspended from his belt, this barelegged sower broadcasts the seed  with his right hand. Behind him is a strange creature that should be this month's sign, Sagittarius, the archer, but instead appears to be a cross between an otter and a two-legged lizard.



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,
National Library of the Netherlands 
c. 1180 CE

In the upper panel, a light-footed sower carries his seed in a loose, pouched length of fabric that is knotted at the back of his neck. He wears a long-sleeved, knee-length red tunic, a close-fitting white cap, black shoes, and short stockings. Behind him a stealthy crow picks a seed out of the furrow.

Walking ahead of the sower is a woman holding a distaff in her left hand, and using a drop spindle to spin thread with her right as she looks back at the sower.

In the lower panel another man follows the sower with a horse-drawn harrow that rakes the soil over the seed. He holds a long goad in his right hand, and the reins in his left. The horse is harnessed to the harrow by means of a well-padded collar beneath the hames. These are attached by long traces that are fastened to the harrow.

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

Using his mantle to form a seed bag, this sower throws the seed in an overhand toss onto the hilly ground before him. He wears a short red tunic, colorful green leggings, and black shoes.





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.

Sowing the fields involves three participants here. To the left, a small horse enters the scene, carrying a bag of seed on its back. Just ahead of the horse is a bearded man in a short tunic. At his waist is a small pouch to hold seed; with his left hand, he broadcasts the seed.

In the center, another man gathers his mantle up in his left hand to form a pouch, also full of seed. He broadcasts this seed with his right hand.

At the right is a third man, wearing a bright blue tunic and holding a brown woven seed bag or basket that is supported by a strap over his right shoulder. With his right hand, he also scatters seed over the ground. It was often the practice to seed the ground first in one direction, and then to seed it again, traveling at right angles to your original path, to be sure the seed was evenly distributed. Perhaps that is what is shown here.

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


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

In this labor, we have returned to the vineyard. A man in a wide-brimmed red hat; blue, wide-sleeved surcoat, and red under-tunic is picking grapes. He carries a stout, footed, two handled box or basket to hold his harvest, its weight supported by heavy rope straps at his waist and over his right shoulder.





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  married Henry of Bolingbroke in 1380. Its calendar has a dozen historiated Ks, each decorated with a  labor of the month.



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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