Medieval Monday: Labors of the Months

Spring is just around the corner.  Most of us look forward to the change to warmer weather…a chance to shed heavy coats, get some fresh air, and watch the daffodils and tulips come up in our gardens.  Soon things will start to sprout buds, and the world will turn from drab brown to vibrant green.

In the medieval world, spring was full of hope, hard work, feasts, and festivals.  As supplies from the previous year began to run low, spring’s hard labors would help to bring forth bountiful harvests in the months to come.

Spring was also time for people to go on pilgrimages.  Chaucer wrote in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, “When April has penetrated March’s drought to the root with its sweet showers…people long to go on pilgrimages, and palmers long to visit foreign shores and distant shrines, famous all over the world.” Such journeys were dangerous, though there were harsh penalties inflicted on those who attacked pilgrims.

Seasons

The varied labors of spring, and all the other months of the medieval year, are presented in this rhyme from the 15th century.

January – By this fire I warm my hands,
February – And with my spade I delve my lands.
March – Here I set my things to spring,
April – And here I hear the birds sing.
May – I am light as a bird on bough,
June – And I weed my corn well enow.
July – With my scythe my mead I mow,
August – And here I shear my corn full low.
September – With my flail I earn my bread,
October – And here I sow my wheat so red.
November – At Martinmas I kill my swine,
December – And at Christmas I drink red wine.

 

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