Harvest Folklore—Mysteries from the East

In Eastern Europe, cutting the last sheaf (Russian dozhinochnym, Ukrainian didukh) was often accompanied by an elder’s petitional prayer so widows and orphans, rich and poor, would all be blessed with a plentiful harvest. (The Russian word for harvest, urozhaí, and Ukrainian zhnýva, derive from a shared root meaning “to cut.”) Fieldworkers festooned the sheaf […]

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Plenty is Revealed, Beautiful Upon the Earth

We’ve had great fun here at the Franklin County Museum in Pasco watching students tend the heritage grain plots behind the main building. Among the varieties we are growing are White and Red Lammas wheats that owe their enduring folk name to medieval Anglo-Saxon Lammastide (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “Loaf Mass”) of offerings traditionally held in early […]

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Gleaners and Mowers, Gavellers and Carters

Although few references to gleaning are found in early medieval farm records or literature, the practice was known to parishioners through sermons and readings from biblical texts like Ruth. Agrarian by-laws after the thirteenth century that regulated peasant manorial obligations provide scant evidence that gleaning in the traditional sense was widely practiced. Virtually all able-bodied […]

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Piers Plowman and Old World Harvests

William Langland’s medieval allegorical epic Piers Plowman (c. 1370) offers commentary in unrhymed alliterative verse on spiritual aspects of temporal labor. The dreamy landscapes that emerge from Langland’s imagination offer insight into feudal society as dialogue with Reason, Conscience, and Faith guiding Piers’ quest to live courageously as a person of faith. Lines from the […]

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The Treasures of Jean, Duke of Berry (Part II)

The colorful pictorial instruction of the Labors of the Months seen in the stained glass windows of cathedrals and manorial homes and in Les Très Riches Heures depicts peasants and aristocrats in commonplace activities throughout the year. They reveal through master craftsmanship the inexorably turning wheel of seasonal toil in uneasy relationship with Nature’s forces. […]

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Magnificent Illustration—The Treasures of Jean, Duke of Berry (Part I)

Hildegard of Bingen’s notable monastic contemporary, French abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), led reforms of the Cistercian so monks could more fully live out the Rule of St. Benedict by affirming the value of field labors, improving agricultural lands with the help of affiliated lay brothers, and cooperating with others to mill grains, process […]

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Saint Hildegard and “Labors of the Months”

English Fleta and other European manuals on model agricultural practices for landlords and manorial managers appeared widely in the late thirteenth century, followed by others like Pietro de Crescenzi’s exceptional fourteenth century Agricultural Calendar. Although many of these manuscripts were heavily influenced by the classic Latin treatises of Varro and Columella, that they were penned […]

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