Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.21061

    Liturgical calendar

    Object type
    Archive reference number
    height (sheet): 194mm
    width (sheet): 1488mm
    height (compartment): 97mm
    width (compartment): 62mm
    Content object
    Section of a folded medieval almanac, showing a liturgical calendar from January to December (48 compartments), marked with Christian festivals; holy days or saints' days.

    Festivals are written in medieval Latin using the middle English alphabet and are colour-coded according to their importance. Those written in blue ink (indigo woad pigment) are the most important, the Marian feasts (Purification, Annunciation, Assumption, Nativity, Conception) as well as All Saints’ Day and the Day of Nativity – Christmas Day. Followed by other major feasts such as Epiphany and All Souls’ Day in red ('red letter days' vermilion pigment). Evangelists', apostles' and martyrs' days are in green (copper verdigris pigment). Finally, the lesser feasts are written in black-brown (gallo-tanic or iron gall ink). The importance of the feasts corresponds to the value of the pigment in which they are written. Blue pigments from valuable minerals like lapis lazuli would have been the most expensive after gold leaf, which is not used in this almanac. Analysis has shown that the blue pigment used here is the less expensive indigo, likely from a local source of woad not indigo proper imported from Asia. However, the symbolical value of the colour blue has been preserved.

    Each feast is illustrated by a conventional head, sideways in coloured penwork: kings crowned, bishops mitred, abbots tonsured, Popes wearing the conical papal tiara. Archbishops of Canterbury are always distinguished by having a cross-topped staff rather than the curved crozier seen with the bishops. Saints are accompanied by an attribute identifying them (e.g. the fleur-de-lis for the Virgin Mary, tongs for Saint Dunstan, breaking wheel for Saint Catherine), these emblems are most often associated with the Saint’s martyrdom. Feasts marking the translation of a Saint, i.e. the movement or enshrinement of their remains as holy relics, are identified with an illustration of a reliquary and the saint may appear again elsewhere in the calendar with their attribute, usually to mark the day of their death.

    Each month is represented in a table spread across four compartments, displayed in full by folding down the lower two compartments. This is the interior of the manuscript which has been better protected from dirt and wear and is cleaner and brighter than other parts, December however is more faded and soiled. The corresponding sign of the zodiac and monthly labour can be seen on the exterior of the fold down.

    Each row in a monthly table represents a day. Each daily row is divided into 7 columns (January, May, July, August, September, October, November, December) or 8 columns (February, March, April, June) with the widest occupied by the saintly iconography. Of the preceding columns one contains the dominical letter for determining the day of the week and the rest numbers in a cipher formed of a circle (10), bracket (5) and dot (1). Above the left-hand columns for each month Arabic numerals in red display the number of days in the month. The second half of January is missing.
    Object history
    Robert Moray FRS donated the manuscript to the Royal Society library in 1668 (JBO/3/104: Journal Book, vol. 3 p.232). The provenance of the manuscript, before it came into the hands of Moray, is unknown.

    The presence of the feast day ‘Translacio Edwardi Regis’ (13 October) entered on the calendar as a red letter day shows an importance being attached to Edward the Confessor great patron of Westminster Abbey where his relics were a popular site for pilgrimage, this may suggest a London origin. While the inclusion of ‘Translacio Mildride’ (13 July) honouring the Anglo-Saxon princess Mildred, suggests Kent. Mildred was Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet, where she was first buried and her relics were later moved to Canterbury. Four Archbishops of Canterbury also feature in the liturgical calendar, strengthening the connection with Kent as a possible place of origin. The inclusion of cultivation activities early in the annual calendar of labours (digging/planting in February), a later hay harvest (July rather than June) and viticulture (March and September) suggests a temperate southern English climate in support of one of these locations rather than a warmer Mediterranean location or a cooler northern one.

    The calendar has been dated to the late 14th century based on the textual content and analysis of the pigments used. Saint George’s feast (23 April) written into the calendar in brown-black ink demarcating it as a lesser feast, indicates the calendar was produced before the elevation of the feast to a red letter day after the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Whilst the presence of the feast of St. Anne, which was not promulgated until 1383 suggests this as the earliest likely date. The presence of the yellow pigment orpiment supports a date in the late 14th century as it was widely replaced by use of lead-tin Yellow around 1400.

    An example of a mid-quality almanac. The range of pigments used demonstrate it was produced economically but not with the cheapest available materials. No gold leaf is present and indigo dyes are used for blue rather than more expensive minerals, however vermilion red is employed over cheaper organic sources. The uniformity and selection of pigments (gallo-tannic black rather than carbon-based) suggests that there was a single creator, rather than a scribe and an illustrator as would be expected for a finer document. This is borne out by the fairly crude rendering of the illustrative material and mistakes or omissions in the layout of information, see for example figures missing feet where these would have extended below a ground line and numbers missing from zodiac headings.

    Conserved in 2021 with the support of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.

    Video demonstrating the format of the almanack and relationship of the calendars available here:

    See P Robinson, 'A 'very curious Almanack'; the gift of Sir Robert Moray FRS, 1688', Notes and Records, 2008 vol 62 pp 301-314.
    Related fellows
    Robert Moray (1608 - 1673, British) , Natural Philosopher
    Associated place
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