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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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     At Martynesmasse I kylle my swyne
       ...At Martinmas I kill my swine


Typical November scenes:

  • Gathering nuts (pannage) for pigs

  • Slaughtering hogs or cattle

  • Collecting firewood

Fécamp Psalter, made in Normandy,
 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 sustainable resource.


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

October, Salzburg labors of the months, Austrian National Library

Salzburg Labors of the Months, from
St. Peter's A
bbey , Austria,
c. 818 CE




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. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Or the 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.

Fulda Sacramentary,
 Fulda, Germany

980 CE

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 Fulda 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.

Shaftesbury Psalter,
British Library Lansdowne 383,
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 style, 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 throughout.

Zwiefalten calendar, Zwiesel Monastery,
Stuttgart, Germany,
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.

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.

 Charité-sur-Loire Psalter,
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.





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 appear in illuminated roundels.

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






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.

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