Calendar leaf for May. Book of Hours, c.1475.

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Medieval calendar pages look rather complicated to the modern eye.

Typically they are laid our in four columns. In the far right appear the special feasts for each day of the month. These are mostly commemorations of the day the saints were martyred. Other feasts commemorate important events in the lives of Christ and the Virgin. Ordinary feast days are written in black and special feast days are written in red, (hence, the term “red-letter day,” meaning a major event). It is common for calendars in French Books of Hours to be written in the vernacular, as occurs here.

This is a “Double-Graded” calendar, a calendar that distinguishes important feasts in red from ordinary feasts in black.  (See further notes below.)

Recto:  A two-line ‘KL’ for Kalends in raised & burnished gold on red and blue grounds with white-lead penwork infill and two one-line initials of identical treatment. Red letter days include feasts for the Apostles Philip and Jacob, the Holy Cross & John.

Verso:   As Recto, with two further dentelle initials in burnished gold.

Source:  France.

Date:   c.1475.

Content: The text in red beside the ‘KL’ reads Mayus h[abe}t dies xxxi.  Luna xxx.  (May has 31 days.  The Moon 30.)

Condition: The leaf is in very good condition with gener ous margins.  Light surface dirt and toning to the vellum. Bright illuminations.

Size: Leaf: c.165x120 mm.  Please note that shipping is invoiiced separately.

Notes: To the left of the Saints’ days is a column of a repeating series of letters - Kl, Id & N.  These stand for 3 fixed points in the month, Kalends (always the first day of the month and from which we derive our term “calendar”), Ides (the middle of the month, either the thirteenth or fifteenth), and Nones (the ninth day before the Ides, counting inclusively; it fell on the fifth or seventh of the month). All the days in between were counted backward from these three fixed points.     

Further left is a repeating series of letters, a - g, called Dominical Letters, to help find Sundays and all the other days of the week throughout the year.  At the far left is an odd column of Roman numerals, i - xix called Golden Numbers to indicate the appearances of new moons, and, counting ahead 14 days, full moons. This esoteric information was extremely important to the medieval Christian, since it helped determine the date of Easter, the Church’s most important feast, in any given year.

Medieval time was Roman time. It followed the reformed but still imperfect system instituted by Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.).  Pope Gregory XIII (papacy, 1572-85) reformed the Julian calendar,  adding ten days (October 4 in 1582 was followed by October 15) and other fine tunings to create in 1583 the Gregorian calendar we use today.

Item Number: MBH163

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