Bodleian Library, Oxford
MS Digby 88
By thys fyre
And with my spade
delfe my landys
Here I sette
And here I here
I am as lyght
And I wede my corne
With my sythe
mede I mawe
And here I shere
With my flayll
And here I sawe
kylle my swyne
And at Christes masse
drynke redde wyne
Oxford, BL Digby 88
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
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
Roman calendar; our word calendar comes from
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Roman calendar that was such an important
influence on later calendars.