Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.21066

    March liturgical calendar

    Object type
    Archive reference number
    height (sheet): 194mm
    width (sheet): 1488mm
    height (compartment): 97mm
    width (compartment): 62mm
    Content object
    Liturgical calendar for March from a medeival almanac, marking important festivals in the Christian calendar, with a sideways portrait head of the saint against their feast day, along with an attribute identifying them. Ruled and illustrated in red, green, blue and black- brown inks.

    The liturgical calendar for March marks the following holy days:

    12 March, Feast of Pope Gregory I ‘Gregorii pie’ [pious] in red ink, with the head of Gregory adorned with the papal tiara and papal cross; symbols of his highest ecclesiastical office. During the Reformation in 16th century England royal edicts by Henry the VIII following his split from the Church and Pope in Rome mandated that popes no longer be venerated and be struck out of religious texts. As this almanac has not suffered this iconoclasm its owners may have continued to follow Roman Catholicism over the new Church of England but the edict was widely ignored so it is not conclusive.

    18 March, Feast of King Edward the Martyr ‘Edwardi Regis’, King of England from 975 to 978, depicted with the crown and sceptre of a monarch. The inclusion of this short-lived English king underlines an English origin for the manuscript.

    20 March, Feast of Saint Cuthbert Bishop of Lindisfarne ‘Cutberti epi’ [episcopal]. Cuthbert is shown with the mitre and crozier of a bishop’s office. His body is interred in Durham Cathedral and he is associated with that city.

    21 March, Feast or Transitus of Saint Benedict ‘Benedicti abbis’, marking the death of the saint and his transition to heaven. Benedict was founder of the Benedictine monastic order and abbot of Monte Cassino, he is depicted with a partially shaven head or ‘tonsure’ of an abbot, and a crozier.

    25 March, The Annunciation ‘Annucio Dai’ [day], celebrating the day the Virgin Mary was told she would bear the son of God. Illustrated by the crowned head of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, and a green fleur-de-lis representing the lily for her purity and virginity. The date of the Annunciation also marked the New Year in many places in the middle ages, including England, where it is also called Lady Day.

    The preceding columns of data for each day are populated with the dominical letter (by which the day of the week could be identified for a given year, relative to one known day) and by numbers written in a cipher formed of a circle (10), bracket (5) and dot (1). Arabic number 31 in red at the top of the calendar indicates the number of days in the month.
    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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