OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312.




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July, Martyrologium of Wandalbert von Prüm

July's labor of the month, from 
a German manuscript, c. 820 CE




Early Calendars
Names of the Months and Labors of the Month

 Medieval seasons

     Roman month names

    Carolingian month names

    Anglo-Saxon month names



Bodleian Library, Oxford
MS Digby 88

  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


Perhaps no one is as acutely aware of seasons as a plant 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 as the seasons turn, the changeless patterns of endless change.

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 identify 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 -- these could result in starvation.

Ultimately, western Europe adopted the Roman calendar; our word calendar comes from kalends, the Latin name for the first day of a month. The Gregorian calendar the western world uses today is based on the calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE. Charlemagne standardized the month names in his lands; the Anglo-Saxons also moved toward consistent names in the early middle ages.

Labors of the months
Medieval calendars often used mnemonic images called "labors" to indicate the month. Each labor presented an activity common during that month.
Seasons and their months were understood as a succession of cyclical farming activities. The innate dignity, as well as necessity, of these labors was reflected in manuscript art as well as architecture.

The portrayal of these monthly labors give us a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary people. What is shown for each month varies depending on the intended audience of the calendar, as well as on the region and climate where the calendar was produced. Calendars from more southern regions placed 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, but includes a look back at the Roman calendar that was such an important influence on later calendars.


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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
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F.D. Drewitt

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