Labours Of the Month – January and February

January calendar page

Extracted from British Library Medieval Manuscripts site,with annotations:

Calendars with illuminations and other miniatures are often found in manuscripts from the medieval era.

Along with listing  important dates, many medieval calendars (particularly later ones) include a miniature of the relevant sign of the zodiac, as well as a scene of the ‘labour of the month.’  These ‘labours’ were fairly standardised, and would have been instantly recognisable to a medieval audience, although they can often require a bit of explanation for the readers of today. Each month depicts a different endeavour appropriate to that particular time of year, and these images are often some of the best evidence of the work and leisure activities of the non-nobility.

An excellent illustration of a medieval calendar can be found in the British Library’s ‘Isabella Breviary,’ created for Queen Isabella of Castile (1451 – 1504).  Isabella is perhaps better known as the mother of Catherine of Aragon, buried here in Peterborough Cathedral.   A breviary is a book of prayers, hymns, and other readings designed to be read daily in accordance with the canonical hours. BL says “This magnificent example was produced in the late 1480s in Bruges, with illustrations by a number of prominent artists of the time.”

Here is the manuscript page the British Library published for January.  At the bottom is a picture associated with the labour of the month for January – sitting warming oneself by the fire, as shown in Longthorpe Tower.  (But showing as February on the font at St Mary’s Church, Burnham Deepdale).  The picture also shows feasting,  (shown as December on the church font.  There are 300 years between the Norman font and these beautiful late 15th century manuscripts.  The Tower pictures, circa 1320 -1340, fall in between.

February’s manuscript picture:

attribution BL: February, from a geographical collection, England (Canterbury? Glastonbury?), mid-11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 3v

February Labour of the Month

It shows workers clearing away vines. Above, their tools are depicted in detail and may reflect actual 11th-century agricultural practices. The men wield curved knives. Below, the man on the furthest left holds a bigger, curved blade attached to a longer handle.

Pruning vines took place in April in the stone font carvings at St Mary’s Church.

One thought on “Labours Of the Month – January and February

  1. Pingback: Longthorpe Tower, a Volunteer's Diary

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