MS Oxford BL
c. 1290 CE
By thys fyre I warme
And with my spade I
delfe my landys.
Here I sette my thinge
And here I here
I am as lyght as
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), 1450 CE)
Perhaps no one is as acutely aware of seasons as a plants
person, whether farmer or gardener. My
grandfather-in-law knew it was time to plant corn when
the buds on the maples were the size of a squirrel's
ear; a century later, I wait until Mother's Day to set young plants out
in the garden. Whether turning to a calendar or studying
Mother Nature for signs, it is always exciting to watch
the seasons turn, the
changeless patterns of endless
Today we take
calendars for granted, with their 24-hour days, ~30-day months, and 12-month years. But
in earlier times, many different
systems were used to monitor the seasons, some based
on solar calculations, others on lunar. Understanding
the cycle of the seasons determined your success with
your crops and your livestock. Mistakes, misjudgments --
could result in starvation.
Ultimately, western Europe
adopted the Roman calendar, and our word
calendar comes from
Latin name for the first day of a month. The Gregorian
calendar the western world uses is based on the calendar introduced
by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE.
standardized the month names in his lands; the
Anglo-Saxons also moved
toward consistent names in the early middle ages.
Medieval calendars often
employed mnemonic images called "labors of the months,"
"labor" presenting an activity
common to that month.
and their months were understood as a succession
of cyclical farming activities, punctuated by holy
days -- holidays -- during which no one worked.
portrayal of these monthly labors give us a glimpse
into the lives of ordinary people. What is shown for
each month varies
according to the class of
the calendar's intended audience, as well as by the
region and climate where the calendar was produced. Calendars from more southern
regions would place labors in earlier months than
the calendars of more northern regions.
The focus for the pages whose
links are provided below will be on the calendars
produced in western Europe and Britain during the early
Middle Ages, with a look back
Roman calendar that was such an important
influence on medieval calendars.