The medieval calendar
Voiceover: Calendars used during the Middle Ages were very different from the simple calendars we use today. In the Middle Ages, people experienced time very differently. For those who could decipher it, the medieval calendar was a map of the Church Year. This page represents the month of July. Each row stands for a day of the month. The columns organize information about each day. This column lists the Saints commemorated, or the feast celebrated, on any given day of the month. Especially important Saints Days or holidays were written in red; this explains the phrase, "A red letter day." This calendar page shows the month of January. The Roman numerals that you see in this column were called the Golden Numbers. These numbers helped the reader determine the phases of the moon. They were used together, with a series of tables, to calculate the date of Easter, which varies from year-to-year. This column helped determine the day of the week. The letters A through G appear in the column. The letters are repeated in sequence. Each letter always represents the same day of the week, Sunday through Monday. Until the late Middle Ages, people used the same calendar system that the ancient Romans used. For both the Romans and the people of the Middle Ages, determining the date depended on an understanding of three key days: kalends, nones and ides. The enlarged initials, "KL," at the top of the page, stands for kalends. Kalends was the first day of the month. Ides fell in the middle of the month, usually on the fifteenth. Nones fell on the ninth day before ides. Today we divide a month into about four weeks, but in the Middle Ages, kalends, nones and ides divided the month into three segments of time. This column contains a series of Roman numerals. Readers used these numbers, together with the three key days of the month, to determine the date. The Roman numerals count down in sequence, from nones to ides. Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, ides. Beginning with the three key days, readers counted backwards to determine the date. For example, the tenth day of December was referred to in the Middle Ages as the fourth day before the ides of December. Some medieval calendars received lavish illustration. In this highly decorated calendar page for the month of June, the red letter days correspond to the scenes in the border. For example, this feast day celebrates the Nativity of John the Baptist. The illustration shows his mother, Saint Elizabeth, just after giving birth to her son. The important Saints, Peter and Paul, were commemorated near the end of the month. They appear in the margin as well. Like many calendar pages, this one shows the labor of the month. An everyday occupation traditionally carried out that month. Here, peasants are shown shearing sheep. A common summertime task. Manuscripts produced in the later Middle Ages often show leisure time activities as well. In the borders of this page, children are shown playing with hobby horses and pinwheels. It was also common to include and image of each month's sign of the zodiac. Here a picture of a crab represents the sign of cancer. The word "cancer" is written beneath. The images weren't just decoration. They illustrated information in the text, and expanded upon it. Images such as the labors of the month showed the viewer that specific tasks were completed according to the season. Together, the words and images help the reader make sense of the medieval year.