At Martynesmasse I
kylle my swyne
...At Martinmas I kill my swine
Fécamp Psalter, made
c. 1180 CE;
Labors of the Month
Collect nuts for pigs; gather firewood by hand or billhook; continue
threshing and winnowing; harvest coleworts as needed.
Ripe acorns, hazlenuts, hawes, and beechnuts were
falling, and swine were taken into the woodlands to
fatten on this rich mast.
Processing meat was most
efficient during the cold weather months from November
through January. Livestock that couldn’t be fed
through the winter was traditionally butchered around the time of Martinmas,
November 11. Butchering provided beef and pork,
as well as mutton and chevon (goat). Some of the meat
was eaten immediately, but much of it was preserved by
smoking, pickling, salting, or drying, to produce such
delicacies as sausage, ham, bacon or fatback, corned
beef and dried beef, and jerky. Every part of the
carcass was used; in addition to meat, the process also
provided leather, pigskin, sheepskin, bone, hooves (for
gelatin), and horn.
Farmers could gather such firewood from
the forest as they could find on the ground or prune
as deadwood from the trees, but
they could not use an ax to take the whole tree. This maintained the forest as a
Coleworts -- cabbage,
turnips, kohlrabi -- would, depending on the local
climate, be gathered and stored in a cold, dark place;
or, in places where the ground didn't freeze, would be left in the ground, covered with straw, and
harvested as needed.
Reeds and sedges were gathered and cured for thatching;
bracken, as winter bedding for cattle.
Labors of November from Early Calendars
Salzburg Labors of the
St. Peter's Abbey , Austria,
c. 818 CE
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. Image from
November was cool enough to be a practical time for butchering and processing
meat. Our swineherd, the "labor" for November, could be restraining a hog
so that December's figure (seen below in the lower right corner) can dispatch it.
swineherd may be pulling the hog so that it will follow him, for November was also a time when swineherds
took their hogs into
the woods to feast on the nuts from beech, hazel, and oak trees, as well
as the hawes from the hawthorn. December's hog may be driving the hog in the
direction of the forest.
November's swineherd is dressed in the same long-sleeved, knee-length tunic as
the other laborers shown in this monatsbilder. Even though the weather
would be turning cold in November, he has no mantle, but does wear red leggings
and black shoes.
It is hard to tell
whether this laborer is harvesting firewood or
waiting for a
hog to arrive. To the left is the
stump of a tree or
vine. The balding man wears a short-sleeved green tunic over
a long-sleeved brown under-tunic, as well as a
long blue mantle fastened at his right shoulder.
Calendar page from the
Sacramentary. 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.
c. 1135 CE
This November worker is preparing to butcher a large, blue, razor-backed
hog. He holds his ax raised above him, preparing to striking the hog in the
forehead with the butt of the weapon. This would knock the hog unconscious, and
then the butcher would kill it by cutting its throat. Many kinds of meat,
and particularly pork, have a rank taste if the animal is stressed just prior to
butchering, so quickly knocking the hog unconscious was both humanitarian and practical.
Probably made at the
nunnery at Shaftesbury, Dorset, this psalter
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 particularly vivid colors -- blue from lapis lazuli, red
from vermillion, green from buckthorn berries, and illuminated with gold
Zwiefalten calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,
c. 1145 CE
Here again, autumn meat
processing is the labor of the month. This time,
the butcher is preparing to stun a cow, rather
than a hog. He holds his ax with both hands,
taking careful aim before striking.
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.
British Library Harley 2895,
c. 1175 CE
Sagittarius, in the form of a centaur who has just
let fly an arrow, looks on as a swineherd knocks down acorns from an oak tree
for his swine to eat. Such pannage was an important source of livestock feed in
the late autumn.
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
appear in illuminated roundels.
Fécamp Psalter, made
c. 1180 CE;
now in National
of the Netherlands
Here again, a swineherd uses a bent stick to
knock a steady rain of acorns onto the forest floor. At his feet, his
razor-backed hogs enjoy their meal. The
swineherd wears a short red hooded cape
over a knee-length blue tunic. His legs are
bare, though the weather must be getting cooler
now, but he does have gray stockings and black shoes.
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.
Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B VII,
made in London at Westminster
or in East
c. 1315 CE.
Two swineherds have tucked their tunics into their
belts so that they can move easily through the forest. They use knobbed
mauls to knock down enormous acorns for their bristly hogs to enjoy.
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),