The Medieval Calendar

Medieval calendars are deceptively simple looking, but jam packed with potential information. They list events in Christ’s life and saints’ days (which occur on their date of death). My folio is a calendar for December, that takes up both recto and verso. Because of its size and the recto/verso thing, I believe it comes from a book of hours. I have been dedicating the majority of my efforts to transcribing and expanding the manymanymany abbreviations.

Liturgical manuscripts is a vast genre comprised of several different types of manuscripts with different functions. Books were written to serve specific purposes in Mass and in the Daily Offices and were arranged chronically according to the liturgical calendar, which had two cycles of time, the temporale and sanctorale. Calendars are most often found at the beginning of liturgical books, meant as an efficient means of identifying which events in Christ’s life and which saints’ days are celebrated on a given date. Many books in a liturgical library would contain calendars, especially missals, sacramentaries, and breviaries. The temporale, also referred to as the Proper of Time, is the basic church year, based on key events in Jesus’ life. In this cycle, the beginning of the year is 4 weeks before Christmas day on Advent Sunday. Christmas would always fall on December 25, Epiphany on January 6, Candlemas  etc. Easter was the high point of the church year as it commemorates the resurrection of Christ after the crucifixion. The date of easter changed annually, because the timing depended on the Jewish lunar calendar. Easter always falls on the same date as Pesach, which is celebrated on the first full moon after the spring equinox. The sanctorale, also referred to as the Proper of Saints, provides the information for celebration of saints’ days. Often the sanctorale began with the Feast of St. Andrew (Nov 30) and end with the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria (25 Nov), mirroring the advent- to- advent structure of the temporale. It should be noted that especially important saints are celebrated for eight days, known as an octave. My calendar contains two- On December 7, “Oct(avue) s(an)cti andree” represents the end of the octave of Saint Andrew. December 6 begins the feast of Saint Nicholas (“nvcholai epi(scopus)) and it ends eight days later when “nichalii epi(scopus) is repeated on December 14.

Trying to wrap my brain around the medieval conceptions of time and calculating dates has been a lengthy and frustrating process. Medieval calendars most often used the Roman method of counting days, which has three fixed points throughout the month- Kalends (always the first), Nones (5th-7th), and ides (13th-15th). The days in between these three points are referred to as how many days until the next fixed day. So, since Nones occurs on December 5th, December 4th would be referred to as II Nones. The left side of the calendar contains two columns for the Dominical Letters and Golden Numbers. Dominical Letters refer to the day of the week, and are represented by the letters A through G. I initially assumed A always meant Sunday, but the way it works is slightly more convoluted. The dominical letter gets assigned to a year based on the first Sunday. So in a given year, if Jan 1 is a Sunday, the dominical letter  is A, and all As throughout the calendar would be Sundays, Bs would be Mondays and so on. But, if the first Sunday is Jan 2 the Dominical Letter would be B, Mondays: C Tuesdays D and so on. Knowing the Dominical Letter allows the reader to match the dates to days of the week, but you must know the Dominical letter assigned to the year.

To the left of the dominical letters are roman numerals known as Golden Numbers which show the day of the month on which the new moon will fall. These numbers are based on a 19 year cycle where the annual cycles of the sun and moon are reconciled. The Golden Numbers have the potential to be incredibly useful, however the reader has to know the current year, and what year in the nineteen year cycle the given year fell.

Can you believe I originally picked the calendar for its perceived simplicity???? I’ve played myself.

Week 5 discussion- Writing Supports

Hi everyone, I am so sorry that this is so late…. Full disclosure, I completely forgot that we are supposed to make blog posts after we lead seminar discussions (I actually forgot we had this blog in the first place because we have approximately 6000 different websites associated with this class and I am truly ScatterBrained. I only remembered when I saw Lynsay’s post, thanks girl) Sorry everyone!!

Leading seminar last week was a little fun, and very scary. For those who missed class, Marc invited two impressive strangers to listen in, which was so intimidating and super awful for me. Professor Nelles also came in to talk about grad school, and you can find that info on slack/culearn/email/one of the other thousand interfaces we have. We discussed writing supports, also known as the things used to write stuff on. Our discussion was predominantly driven by the chapter reading and Saenger’s article about silent reading in the Middle Ages.  We distinguished two “types” of writing supports during discussion- the Ps (papyrus, parchment, and paper) and the others mentioned in chapter 1 (metal, wax, wood, etc).

The Ps are the most recognizable/ “normal” writing supports to our modern brains, since paper has survived as the most popular form (until now, as we are experiencing a shift towards digital writing supports). The two categories are mostly discrete since parchment and paper was used for different things than wax and metal. In general, parchment and paper were  liked for its longevity and association with important information, whereas the others were used for more temporary or portable work. Wax was notable for its erasability. We considered why parchment became the most widely used writing support in the MA. Parchment offered a permanence that other writing supports couldn’t, and most notably it could be made into a codex, which became the ultimate vessel for writing and recording information in the Middle Ages. Parchment also provided the right colour and texture for writing and drawing.

Saenger’s article was not directly about writing supports, but rather the culture around writing and reading in the Middle Ages. The article covered a huge amount of time and space, from the Roman Empire up until the Early Modern period, which was in an effort to demonstrate how there was a distinct change from reading aloud to reading silently. Writing in the dominantly oral reading culture of Rome was practiced as per cola et commata, which means that the scribe would write in a way that was designed to be read aloud in (syllabic phrases rather than words). The rise of vernacular language in the Middle Ages meant that people no longer spoke Latin, and therefore could not read by phrases in the Roman tradition. The incorporation of spaces between words made reading silently possible.

Finally, I wanted us to consider how digitizing medieval writing supports can be challenging, since the information we gather from them is often hard to impart through the interwebs. For example, it is distinctly difficult to describe with words the sound that a particularly thick sheet of parchment makes when you wiggle it. Digitizing these sources usually means pictures, which adds a level of removal from the source.  However, there are also upsides, like new and exciting access to sources that may have been inaccessible before digitization.

About Liv

Hi, I’m Liv, short for Olivia, either is fine 🙂

I’m in my fourth year at Carleton in history. This year, I am (slowly) learning digital history skills by working with my classmates on digitizing Late Medieval folio pages and learning the mystical and incomprehensible(!!) arts involved in digital codicology. We will be digitizing and cataloguing medieval folio pages, and finding out as much as we can. You can follow our progress on our Twitter Page. My other academic interests usually include medieval women (monastic! aristocratic! noble! regular!), medieval Christianity and monasticism, disability studies, and sexuality and gender. This year I am working on an Honours research project, which will be a year long endeavour into late medieval convents, considering what images they were exposed to and how the cloister impacted the lives of the nuns living there.

I like really like living in Ottawa and the History Department at Carleton. I moved from Kitchener three years ago and sometimes miss my family + pet, but I love my new frie-amily, roommates,  and my step-cat, Kip. I watch a lot of tv shows, but like to watch the same 50 movies over and over again (my favourite is the Princess Bride).


Kip is our house cat and protector against mice and spiders (the bIG kind)