Calendar of Saints' Days for December

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Calendar of Saints DayDecember's manuscript of the month is the Calendar of Saints' Days for December.

During the Middle Ages, time-keeping was more complex than ours. Alongside the Julian calendar, with its twelve months, dates and days of the week, the year was also marked by saints’ days, which had their own very different calendar. For example, it was usual to write that an event occurred on the eve of the feast-day of St. John the Baptist, rather than on the 23rd June or – as in this calendar for December – nine lessons were recited on completion of the octave of St. Andrew (from 30 November to 7 December inclusive).

Calendar of Saints Days

This is an extract, for the month of December, from the 15th century Calendar of Saints’ Days which is held by Dublin City Library & Archive and forms part of the Chain Book of Dublin.  However, the Calendar was originally held by the religious guild of St. Sythe, which was based at St. Michan’s Church in Dublin.  Sythe is a Dublin version of the name of Osyth or Citha, a Saxon saint who was martyred by the Vikings in 870.  With the adoption of Christianity by the Vikings, they came to venerate Sythe as a form of atonement and she had a chapel dedicated to her in St. Michan’s. 

St Michan's Church

It is likely that the Calendar came into the possession of the then Dublin City Assembly at the Reformation as it would continue to be useful to the Town Clerk when identifying saints’ days in documents dating from the Middle Ages.  It consists of six parchment leaves, each one written on both sides, with simple embellishment in red and blue.  The document has been trimmed at the top, probably to fit it into the Chain Book, and dates of the month have been added in Arabic numerals in the margin, in a 16th century hand.  At the end of each month, there is a note on the length of the day: December’s night has eighteen hours while December’s day has six hours.  The principal feasts from 25-29 December of Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day, St John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and St Thomas a Becket, are all noted as being double festivals.

The Calendar of Saints’ Days is only one of the treasures held in the Chain Book, which will itself be the subject of a future Manuscript of the Month.

Manuscript of the Month

Each month, Dublin City Archives will be showcasing a manuscript from their collections on our blog. Check back next month for the next instalment!

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