Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.21084

    December liturgical calendar

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

    1 December, Feast of Saint Eligius Bishop of Noyon-Tournai ‘Eliag epi’ [episcopal] illustrated with the head of the saint in his bishop’s mitre.

    6 December, Feast of Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra ‘Nicholas epi.’ [episcopal] illustrated with the head of the saint in his bishop’s mitre.

    8 December, Feast of the Immaculate Conception ‘Conceptio de Marie’. Referring to the conception of the Virgin Mary by her mother St Anne. Illustrated with the crowned head of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, and a green fleur-de-lis representing the lily for her purity and virginity.

    13 December, Feast of Saint Lucia ‘Lucie vigis a martir’ illustrated with a portrait of the saint with long, loose hair beneath what may be a lamp (one of the traditional attributes of Lucy who is patron saint of the blind), the drawing is unclear.

    21 December, Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle ‘Thome Aptl.’ Illustrated by a bearded portrait of the saint beneath a stylised spear, instrument of his martyrdom.

    25 December, The Nativity of Our Lord, commonly called Christmas Day commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Illustrated with a bay in a crib beneath a fluer-de-lis, symbol of his mother the virgin Mary. As one of the most important feasts in the Christian Calendar this is entered in blue text, along with the Marian Feasts and All Saint’s Day.

    26 December, Feast of Saint Stephen, Archdeacon illustrated with a portrait of the saint beneath a pile of stones, instrument of his martyrdom.

    27 December, Feast of Saint John the Evangelist ‘Johis ewangeliste with a portrait of the saint and his traditional attribute the eagle. Though Saint John was an apostle and evangelist this feast is entered in the calendar in red ink not the green usually used for Apostles. The same is true for his other appearance in the calendar in May ‘Feast of Saint John Before the Latin Gate’.

    28 December, Feast of the Holy Innocents ‘Innocentium’ also called Childermas, in memory of the male infants killed in Bethlehem by the decree of King Herod to eliminate the child Christ. Illustrated by five faces of children.

    29 December, Feast of Saint Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury ‘Thome archiepi.’ [arch episcopal]. Illustrated wearing a mitre and with the cross-topped staff used to distinguish all Archbishops of Canterbury featured in the almanac. The second appearance of Thomas Becket in the almanac, 7 July marked the translation of his relics, this feast commemorates the date of his death. 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.

    31 December, Feast of Pope Sylvester illustrated with the head of the saint wearing a conical papal tiara. An instance of a papal saint not having been struck off the calendar during the Reformation.
    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
    <The World>
       > Europe
          > United Kingdom
    Powered by CollectionsIndex+/CollectionsOnline