12 Months of the Year, or, Medieval Liturgical Calendars

“A picture is worth a thousand words!”

Yes. And no.

In one image, art, like photography, can present something that could take a thousand words to describe. Or more, depending upon what’s being shown.

I think of the raw files that come out of my Nikon D7100 as being more like rough drafts than the final word, so to speak.

Lettuce for refreshing the mouth and good sleep (From an Italian version of Tacuinum Sanitatis, 1300s)

Artistic renditions of medieval life, many from hand-written prayer books such as the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, show us snippets of life, often idealized and certainly slanted toward the lives of the wealthy and powerful.

According to Kathleen Doyle and Cristian Ispir of the British Library, the twelve months of the year usually appeared with the following set plan:

January: the water bearer of Aquarius, and feasting, sometimes with the two-faced Roman god of time and transitions Janus, who looks both backwards to the previous year as well as to the year to come.


February: the fish of Pisces, and someone warming his or her feet by a fire.


March: the ram of Aries, with the pruning of trees.


April: the bull of Taurus, and a spring activity of enjoying the countryside and picking flowers.


May: the twins of Gemini, and hawking.


June: the crab of Cancer and reaping or harvesting of hay.


July: the lion of Leo and harvesting of wheat.


August: the woman of Virgo, and threshing.


September: the scales of Libra, and grape harvesting or the making of wine.


October: the scorpion of Scorpio, and sowing.


November: the archer of Sagittarius, and gathering acorns for hogs or pigs.


December: the goat of Capricorn, and the slaughter of the pig.

Of course, this schedule reflected the climate and agriculture of northern Europe.

Let’s identify the dishes in the image below. One is a boar’s head. Other animal parts. Maybe some bread. Everything brown in color. (This is something I’ve noted when recreating historic recipes, the predominance of the color brown!) What’s floating in the dish held by the guy in the upper left-hand corner?

A picture can throw out a 1000 questions, too.

Barthélemy l’anglais (Bartholomeus Anglicus), De proprietatibus rerum (trad. Jean Corbichon), 1480 (French). BnF MS Français 9140, fol. 112

*Cooking pot illustration (above) from Luttrell Psalter, England, c. 1325-35.