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The medieval calendar

The medieval calendar served as a map of the Church year and featured illustrations of saints, feasts, monthly labors, leisure activities, and signs of the zodiac. Learn how to read one, and discover the meanings of the illustrations.  Created by Getty Museum.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Matthew DeWard
    At in the video she talks about the kids playing with hobbyhorses pinwheels although they look like they are carrying keys on sticks... Then at around she talks about the sign of the zodiac being a crab, when in fact the image is of a lobster. Did they mistakenly place a lobster as the sign "Cancer" of the zodiac? Maybe I am missing the point. =P


    (5 votes)
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  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Paul Norwood
    At it says the days of the week were presented "Sunday through Monday." Is that just a slip or is there something else?
    (7 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user amateur
      No, it's not a slip! Traditional Catholic calendars considered Sunday as the first day of the week and Monday as the second. This medieval convention survived for a very, very long time. In fact, it is still around in the US, where most calendars still have weeks that start on Sunday (just google 'American calendar 2015' and you'll see).
      The idea of Sunday being the first day of the week was around for a pretty long time where I live (Belgium), too. I remember that as I child I used to get confused about whether Monday or Sunday was the first day of the week, because some of the old children's books I read mentioned weeks starting on Sunday, while other books and my schoolteachers claimed that Monday was the first day of the week. In Belgium, at least, we now all seem to agree that, at least for secular and non-religious purposes, weeks start on Monday. I suspect that this is at least partly because of the ISO 8601 standard, an international standard for the notation of time and date that was introduced in 1988. The ISO firmly puts Monday at the beginning of each week. More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601 and http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/days/
      (9 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    At the narrator says "...this explains the phrase, a red letter day."

    I have never heard such a phrase before...what does it mean?
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine seedling style avatar for user Sara McKenzie
    At the video say the calendar is for the month of June but at is says the zodiac sign is cancer. I thought that was for July. Did that change over time?
    (4 votes)
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  • leafers tree style avatar for user Ami K
    What language is the script in?
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Oliver C. Pe
    Under The Medieval calendar..."It was also common to include and image of each month's sign of the zodiac."

    How was the zodiac acceptable during that time to the extent that it would be incorporated into the calendar which predominantly espouses Christian thinking? (Is there an article within this section that explains where these ideas intermingle? I am curious to know further how these different parts of the calendars were used? Or where some of these purely decorative in nature?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user anakinvader
    At , the speaker says "For those who could decipher it, the medieval calendar was a map of the church year." However, I am still unclear on who "those who could decipher it" actually were. Who were the contemporary audiences of these calendars? Would the majority of people looking at this calendar have been literate and able to read it in its entirety, or would most simply have "read" it through the images? Additionally, would more wealthy (and thus, learned) people have had exclusive access to these calendars, or would these pages have been posted in public places or displayed in churches for all to see?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Gloria Blanchard
      I think somewhere in this course that these manuscripts were cosly and ussually commissioned by wealthy patrons, shown to friends and family. By this time most of the nobility were illiterate as well, so it was not uncommon to have a scribe or monk read to the patrons, while sharing the illustrations with friends and family. A "Library" was one or more books - the more books the more prestige. Even a king would have less than a hundred, with certain notable exceptions.

      My guess is that if the general public saw any,at all it would be during Mass for the "Veneration of the Word". when the Priest holds the Word high over his head to show the celebrants.
      (0 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Samantha Moone #Writer's Alliance
    at , she mention ides, what are ides?
    (2 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Anna
    I have seen IIII and IV both as 4 in roman numerals. In particular I have seen IIII in medieval works and IV during both the time of the romans and years past the middle ages. Now if I, X, C, and M can only be repeated for a maximum of 3 times and V, L, and D can't be repeated at all in roman numerals than why do I sometimes see violations of those rules like IIII or VV or some number that is supposed to be in the thousands but follows none of the rules of roman numerals?
    (2 votes)
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  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user kt_designbox
    When was the use of this calendar discontinued in Europe?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

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.