Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.21070

    May liturgical calendar

    Object type
    Archive reference number
    height (sheet): 194mm
    width (sheet): 1488mm
    height (compartment): 97mm
    width (compartment): 62mm
    Content object
    Liturgical calendar for May 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 May marks the following holy days:

    1 May, Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James ‘Philippi a Iacobi’, the apostles. Illustrated by two portrait heads of the saints atop one another.

    3 May, Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross or Roodmas ‘Inuento ste crucis’. Illustrated with a spade-tipped crucifix and a shovel.

    6 May, Feast of Saint John Before the Latin Gate ‘Iohanis an porta latina’. Though Saint John was an apostle and evangelist this feast, marking the attempt to martyr him by boiling in oil outside the gates to Rome, is entered in the calendar in red ink not green (green usually used for apostles and evangelists). He appears again in red for Saint John’s day on 27 December. The illustrated head of St John is surmounted by his traditional symbol, the eagle.

    12 May, Feast of Saint Pancras ‘Pancracii’, illustrated with a the partially shaven head or tonsure of monastic figures.

    19 May, Feast of Saint Dunstan ‘Dunstani’, accompanied by tongs and a hammer (or cross-topped staff cut off at the edge of the parchment?). Known as a metalworker St Dunstan is said to have driven away the devil with tongs, the tools of his trade.

    26 May, Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury ‘Augustini epi’ [episcopal]. Illustrated with a the cross-topped staff and mitre of his office. Saint Augustine is one of four Archbishops of Canterbury to appear in the calendar perhaps suggesting a connection with the city, or county of Kent. The Archbishops of Canterbury featured are all accompanied by cross-topped staffs, distinguishing them from bishops shown with curved croziers.

    31 May, Feast of Saint Petronilla ‘Petronille Vgis’ [virgin], shown wearing a wimple or hood surmounted by a palm of martyrdom; a green tree with red fruits or flowers, representing her virginal purity and martyrdom.

    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 30 in red at the top of the calendar indicates the number of day 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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