Brueghel’s Renaissance Beauty and Blisters (Part I)

Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s sixteenth century masterpiece The Harvesters (1565) provides vivid commentary on the Old World division of labor. The vibrant panorama is one of five in the acclaimed Renaissance artist’s ambitious Seasons series of wide, high diagonal foregrounds that allow viewers to perceive vast distances. The work teems with life and hot summer […]

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The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Miracle of the Wheat Field

Some medieval theologians and parish priests saw divine intervention in agrarian fortunes and used familiar harvest experience to acquaint parishioners with higher truths revealed in the Scriptures. The faithful heard sermons about Jesus’ parables of the sower, wheat and tares, mustard seed, and leaven—all four found in Matthew 13, in which the temporal realm of […]

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Folk Tunes and Corn Dollies in Merry Olde England

English folk tunes sung during harvest time and other field labors took various forms including ballads with charming melodies and lively tunes of ribald verse. The final cutting of grain after weeks of arduous work was commonly assigned to the youngest girl present. “O’ tis the merry time,” wrote cavalier poet Matthew Stevenson (c. 1654-1684), […]

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Western European Folklore—Oat Goats and Rye Hounds

Scandinavian farmers customarily saved the last harvest cuttings for the ceremonial “Yule Sheaf” (Norwegian Julenek, Swedish Julkarve) of oats or other grain. The sheaf was suspended from a pole or barn roof during Christmas week as a blessing to the birds and goodwill offering for a favorable growing season in the coming year. This tradition […]

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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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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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