Looking at a calendar.
Looking at a calendar.

We just spend just over an hour going over the details of medieval calendars. I was privileged to be part of a 2-day meeting, just a couple of weeks ago, to discuss a project to build a tool for crowdsourcing identification of elements in medieval calendars,* but it’s great to have a lower-level and detailed overview of all the various bits of information that come together in a medieval calendar.

  • Days are determined in reference to Kalends, Nones, and Ides, and numbered leading up to those days. For example, if the Ides falls on the 13th of the month, the 12th of that month is referred to as “II Ides”, the 11th as “III Ides” etc. This means that dates falling later in a month are numbered leading up to the first day of the following month. So, January 31 is referred to as “II Kalends February” (the second day before the Kalends of February)
  • Saints and feast days are noted for each day. Saints may be identified by rank (bishop, martyr, virgin, etc.), and the days may be weighted by color of ink used, indication that extra readings are to be done that day, etc.
  • Saints mentioned in calendars can help localize calendars. For example, we looked at an Anglo-Saxon manuscript that includes St. Swithun (from Winchester), St. Grimbaldus (also Winchester), and another Saint (whose name I didn’t note) from Wessex (the area of England where Winchester is located). So, all indications are that the calendar was intended for use in Winchester. Saints can also help us date calendars, at least set the earliest dates calendars could have been written (if a calendar includes a saint who died in 1135, you can bet the calendar itself must be dated sometime after that date)

The part of the calendar that I found most interesting is notes on how many hours of day and night there are for each month (I know these aren’t ubiquitous in calendars, until this morning I hadn’t noticed that information before, and a quick glance through some calendars I found through MESA  don’t show any). I wonder if it would be possible to help localize calendars using that information – the theory being that calendars for northern use would have longer nights during the winter and longer days during the summer. I asked Dr. Graham, and he isn’t aware of any work being done on that.

An interesting morning so far, learning information that is directly relevant to digital humanities projects I’m involved with.

*That meeting isn’t mine to discuss, but the project is moving forward and it is going to be AWESOME.