feast days

Degrees of uncertainty – extracting information from difficult calendar fragments, part 2

Friday, September 17th, 2021

Steffen Hope, Linnaeus University and Oslo University

In my previous blogpost, I was mainly concerned with the details of how one might go about when preparing for the inputting of a fragment into the database, and how one must be careful when encountering uncertain information. In this blogpost, I will focus on one particular fragment, namely Fr 25608, and provide a few examples of various degrees of uncertainty that I have had to navigate when inputting the information from this particularly complicated fragment.

Introducing the fragment

The fragment in question is kept at the Swedish National Archives Database of Medieval Parchment Covers (Riksarkivets databas över medeltida pergamentomslag, MPO). In the MPO database, this fragment is listed as Fr 25608, while in the older catalogue – CCM, or Catalogus Codicum Mutilorum – it is listed as Kal 16. Details about the fragment can be found here.

Fr 25608, verso

Fr 25608 is a fragment from a twelfth-century calendar, probably produced in England. It contains the months of May and June. Depending on the state of the fragment, the researcher can extract a lot of information from these two months. We can learn what feasts are celebrated, but also which feasts are not included. In the case of Fr 25608, however, the researcher faces a particularly difficult challenge, as the fragment has been cut vertically. Little more than half of the folio is now lost, and the information is only partially extant. This requires some educated guesswork when analysing the fragment. In some cases, the feasts included in the fragment can be ascertained fairly safely, while others are more complicated. In the following, I will provide examples of three degrees of uncertainty that we encounter when working on Fr 25608.

First degree: Very certain identification

Some feasts are easy to identify with a high degree of certainty, for instance because they are universally celebrated with a high liturgical grade. One such example is the Nativity of John the Baptist, celebrated on June 24 in every calendar of the Latin Church. In the entry for June 24 in Fr 25608, we see the letters “Nat” extant in red ink, and this clearly signifies “Nativitate”. We can therefore be completely certain what feast this is.

Fr 25608, verso (detail)

Other feasts are less certain, but still well within the spectrum of very certain identification. This might be because the feasts in question are universal, and/or because just enough of the text remains for us to identify which saints were celebrated on those days. In Fr 25608, we see this in the days preceding the Nativity of John the Baptist. On June 23, we see the abbreviation “Sce” for “sancte”, followed by the letters “et”. We then know that this is a singular female saint. Given the surviving letters in the name, as well as the calendar’s English origin, it is reasonable to suggest that this is Saint Etheldreda. This feast is not universal throughout the Latin Church, but it was celebrated in all English calendars. The identification therefore has a high degree of certainty.

Second degree: Quite certain identification

In other cases, the remaining information opens up for several possible interpretations. The identification, then, cannot be more than quite certain, or, as seen below, uncertain. When we look at Fr 25608, there are several feasts about which we can be quite certain, but where we are lacking the necessary piece of information that allows us to draw firm conclusions. One such example can be found in the entry for June 2. The abbreviation “Scor” for “Sanctorum” points to two or more saints to be celebrated on that day. Following this abbreviation we see the letter “m”, and this narrows down our options significantly, as June 2 is the universally celebrated feast of SS Marcellinus and Peter. Due to the universal nature of their feast, and because there are no other saints beginning with M commonly celebrated on this day, the identification seems certain.

Fr 25608, verso (detail)

Universal feasts are in many ways fairly secure points of orientation, but they are by no means completely fool proof. The plural “Sanctorum” might not point to two saints commonly celebrated together, but rather two independent saints who are celebrated on the same day by chance. There are several examples of this among the universal feasts. Moreover, there might be one or more saints venerated locally or regionally in the parish or diocese where the calendar was produced. These saints might be venerated on different days in other parts of Latin Christendom. While the most straightforward hypothesis in this case would be to interpret the “Sanctorum m” as meaning SS Marcellinus and Peter, there is just enough uncertainty at play to prevent us from excluding other options, no matter how less likely those options are.

Third degree: Uncertain information

In the aforementioned cases, there have been enough details to allow for some degree of speculation beyond the date of the feast itself. Whether one saint or more are celebrated, and whether it is a male or a female saint are elements that help us in arriving at a more secure identification. However, some of the entries in Fr 25608 are even more challenging for the researcher, because the only information provided is the date of the feast and the fact that there are two or more saints to be celebrated. We see examples of this in the entry for June 19.

Fr 25608, verso (detail)

Despite the fact that nothing of the names of the saints celebrated in this entry has survived, we are not completely in the dark. June 19 has a universal feast, namely that of SS Gervase and Protase. Given the universal nature of this feast, it is very likely that this is the one celebrated in Fr 25608. However, since we cannot exclude other possibilities, and since we cannot draw a definite conclusion based on the available information, this identification must remain uncertain and tentative.

Digitising uncertainty

When inputting information into the database, we often operate with uncertainties, and we have ways of factoring that into how we present the sources and their content. In cases such as Fr 25608, the once-available information is now reduced to a few details that can be more or less ascertained, as well as several details that we cannot be sure about. Cases such as this particular calendar serve to remind us about the limits of certainty, and how we need to navigate the balance between our own convictions – drawn in large part from our previous experiences and our frame of reference – and the available evidence. Even in the cases where our hypotheses are the simplest and the most likely options, we cannot allow ourselves to disregard alternative interpretations even though such a possibility is only hinted at in the plural “saints” at the beginning of an entry. Fragments such as Fr 25608 also remind us that very often we need to accept that we do not know, and that we must be careful not to add more to a source than can be found in it.

Inputting Saints’ Feasts found in Calendar Fragments into the ‘Mapping Saints’ Database

Friday, June 18th, 2021

Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

In this blog post, I discuss how we classify information from the calendars for input into the database. An important part of this work involves figuring out how to deal with different systems of dating and how to visualize change over time. Lastly, I conclude with a reflection on my planned analyses of the development of saints’ feasts in medieval Sweden and Finland.


Classification and Input into the Mapping Saints Database

In the Mapping Lived Religion project, we are building a database of both objects and texts that provide evidence of the cults of saints; the research resource, including a mapping component, has been named Mapping Saints. In order to identify, trace, and analyze, the main analytical component in the project is the concept of Cult Manifestation, which indicates when evidence – for example, artefactual, archaeological, or textual – for a saint’s cult is “manifest” in a particular location and at a specific point in time (or over a period of time). The evidence for a Cult Manifestation can be an object, a painting, a narrative text, a feature in the landscape, or a feast day. In the Mapping Saints database, the basis for a Cult Manifestation is organized into Type of Evidence > Type of Evidence, subcategory.

The calendars contain Cult Manifestations for feast days (Type of Evidence), while the more specific (sub)category depends on whether the feast was celebrated or observed only by the clergy (called festum chori) or also by laypeople (called a festum fori/terrae in the database; see my previous blog-post for definitions of these Latin terms). The basis for a saint’s Cult Manifestation in the case of the calendars is thus either:

Type of Evidence = Feast Day
Type of Evidence, subcategory = Festum fori/terrae


Type of Evidence = Feast Day
Type of Evidence, subcategory = Festum chori

As an example, I have chosen a 13th-century century calendar fragment from the Skara Diocese (Figure 1). The feast days in red ink have been input into the database as a Cult Manifestation for a Feast Day > Festum fori/terrae for the month of March (given numerically as “03”). The feast days in black ink have been input as a separate Cult Manifestation for a Feast Day > Festum chori. As Cult Manifestations are also connected to time in the Mapping Saints research resource, I will discuss further details as to how these feast days are inputted below.


The image is a visual aid to the text.

Figure 1. Calendar fragment Fr 25594 (Kal 2, 1r) contains the month of March. It indicates the liturgical rank in the right column. The feast days in black are interpreted as festum chori, while the feast days in red as festum fori. Photo by Sara Ellis Nilsson.


Challenges with Time

In order to get to grips with what we have termed our “time-scape”, as well as landscape, including dates is an important component in the project. Currently, we are discussing and working on ways to implement the myriad dates and ways of dealing with time associated with our rich and varied source material. One of the ways that we have approached the issue of visualizing when – in terms of which centuries – a feast day was probably celebrated is by providing a date or interval for when an object was produced (called Production date). However, in the case of the calendars, this date may obscure when in fact certain saints were venerated in the landscape in question. This is because many of the early calendars (now fragments) were produced in other locations – France, England or elsewhere – although they were later used in dioceses in the Ecclesiastical Province of Uppsala. Some of these saints were venerated liturgically and their feasts observed, while others were known by name only (due to their inclusion in calendars). In the project, all saints’ feast days in the calendar fragments are included in the database, as even knowledge about the saints could have had an influence on lived religion.

Currently, the solution that we have implemented to show when a Cult Manifestation was active – and which can later be visualized using a timeline connected to the map tool – is by providing a Function time-period for each manifestation. In the case of the calendars, this interval begins either when the calendar was produced or when a feast day was added to the calendar later. The estimated end date in the interval for Cult Manifestations for feast days based on those found in calendar fragments is 1571 (unless other evidence or information is available), which is the year that the Swedish government and church officials decided on formal new regulations for the church (Kyrkoordningen). These regulations were a precursor to the Church Law (Kyrkolagen) that was ratified over a century later (Malmstedt 1994: 59, 67; Zachrisson 2017: 42). It is important to note, however, that many feasts continued to be celebrated after 1571, and red ink was also used for major feasts after the Reformation. In these cases, another end date will be input. In the above example, the Function time-period for the feasts in the original calendar starts in the 13th century, based on when the calendar was made (the Production date), and ends in 1571. Any additions to the calendar, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas on March 7, are input as separate Cult Manifestations with a new start date in the Function time-period interval. This will allow us to analyze and visualize changes in Cult Manifestations over time. In Thomas’ case, the start of this Cult Manifestation is based on the addition in the early 1300s, and the interval is given as 1301—1571.

It is important to note that, as the project is ongoing, this system is under development and might be modified.


Future Analyses

After the feast days and their observance have been input into the calendars, I will use digital methods to analyze Cult Manifestations based on calendar entries, i.e. Feast Day > festum chori OR festum fori/terrae. These results will be mapped over time, from the evidence in the liturgical calendar fragments to the final version of the liturgical year that was established in the Calendars printed before the Reformation. The results will give a glimpse into the way medieval people lived religion through feast days. Combined with Cult Manifestations based on other forms of evidence, such as sculptures, I will then be able to determine which saints were celebrated where and which cults had the most impact on the way religion was lived in Swedish and Finnish dioceses during the medieval period.



Göran Malmstedt 1994. Helgdagsreduktionen. Övergången från ett medeltida till ett modernt år i Sverige, 1500–1800. Göteborg: Avhandlingar från Historiska institutionen i Göteborg.

Terese Zachrisson 2017, Mellan fromhet och vidskepelse: Materialitet och religiositet i det efterreformatoriska Sverige. Göteborg: Avhandling från Institutionen för historiska studier.

Fragments of a Year: Saints’ Feasts in Swedish and Finnish Medieval Calendars (Part II)

Friday, June 4th, 2021

Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

This second part of my discussion of Swedish and Finnish medieval Calendars and their place in the project Mapping Lived Religion (or, as we have started to affectionately call it, Mapping Saints) has been delayed in part due to the current pandemic. When I posted the first installment, I thought that I was just at the start of a year of regular trips to Stockholm to transcribe the calendar fragments that do not have photos in the Swedish National Archives Database of Medieval Parchment Cover Fragments (Riksarkivets databas över medeltida pergamentomslag, MPO). Studying these fragments will provide a clearer picture of what is actually extant and what these fragmented calendars can tell us about the medieval veneration of saints. However, the past year has put my plans to travel to the archives on hold. I am not more mobile now, nor have I had the chance to travel to Stockholm. However, our continuing project-work developing the database’s model, as well as re-checking my transcriptions and inputting them into the database has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on what calendars can tell us about the veneration of saints in terms of lived religion, as well as the use of digital methods in studying feast days.

In my previous post, I presented a short historiography of the research on parchment fragments in Scandinavia – without which ground-breaking work my current research would not have been possible. The subject of this blog-post focuses on the parchment fragments that the Mapping Lived Religion project is including in its database for medieval Sweden and Finland: the liturgical calendars. Specifically, the post explores what these calendars can tell us about the veneration of saints.


What can the calendars tell us about the veneration of saints?

Simply put, the perpetual, ecclesiastical calendars found in medieval liturgical books, for example breviaries, indicate the date and rank of established feasts throughout the year and are organized into two overlapping but separate annual cycles. The feasts that were part of the Sanctorale were fixed to specific dates each month and included saints’ feast days, while the annual cycle celebrating Jesus’ life was found in the Temporale (Harper 2001: 49, 290). In the case of feast days, the date and liturgical rank, as well as the observation of the feast can give us clues as to when and how the feast was to be celebrated and by whom, just the clergy or also the laity. In addition, saints’ feasts were sometimes celebrated on different days depending on the diocese. Of course, these calendars are normative sources, indicating a rule rather than a practice. However, it is possible to deduce/postulate what the consequences of these regulations would have been on a particular congregation. There are, however, some further indications which provide concrete clues more closely related to the actual practices associated with feast days: that is, 1) observation, 2) liturgical rank, and 3) the additions and removals of feast-days.

Observation indicates how a feast was required to be celebrated by a community, both the clergy and laypeople. In the later calendars, how or by whom the feast was to be observed was often included (or added in the case of older calendars) to the right of the saint’s name, sometimes in conjunction with the liturgical rank or number of lessons. Observation of the feast was indicated by the following terms: festum fori (“feast of obligation for all”) or festum terrae (“feast of obligation for the entire country”) and festum chori (“feast of obligation for the clergy”). In the calendar material from the Nordic countries, festum fori/terrae indicates the most important feasts that are to be observed or celebrated by the entire ecclesiastical province (in medieval Swedish, landsheligt, literally “holy throughout the land”). This included of course laypeople, who were expected to attend church and the liturgical celebrations that day. The other term, festum chori, specifies that the feast need only be celebrated liturgically by the clergy. The liturgical historian Sven Helander suggests that a cross can have the same function as festum terrae in the older calendars (1959b; 1959c). However, these terms were not connected to the liturgical rank, although feasts designated as festum terrae often enjoyed a higher liturgical rank which is to be expected. The use of colour in the calendars seems to be connected to the observation of a feast, not its liturgical rank: red indicating festum fori/terrae, and black festum chori. It is also important to note that the use of festum terrae continued even after the Reformation to indicate important feast days (Helander 1959c). Indeed, even today, “red days” indicate public holidays.

Liturgical rank indicates how important a feast was in terms of its liturgical celebration, that is the celebration conducted in church which included the number of readings and songs: in general, the higher the rank, the longer the service. This can be indicated in a number of ways. From the 12th–13th centuries, the following terminology was commonly used, and the liturgical rank was often included beside the entry for a saint’s feast. This could be indicated by the number of lessons or a number of other terms in the case of a feast with nine lessons (Harper 2001: 49, 53–54; Helander 1959a). The number of lessons indicate readings from the Bible or a saint’s life that were read aloud during Matins (one of the times of prayer that organized the day) and two Vespers (one the evening before, and one the evening on the actual feast day). These extra terms are: totum duplex or festum duplex (a “total double” or “double feast”, that is a major feast and both indicate the highest rank), semiduplex (literally “half double” and indicates a feast between a simple and double), and simplex (a simple feast, that is a lesser feast with three lessons read at Matins in parish churches or nine lessons in monasteries). Of course, there are a number of hypotheses regarding what these terms actually indicated (Helander 1959a). The celebration of an office with three lessons does not seem to have required additional terms. A saint’s feast day could also be celebrated as a memoria (“memorial”, that is a day of remembrance to commemorate a minor saint which does not affect the regular daily liturgy). All of the other terms indicate a disruption to regular liturgical patterns.


Illustrates the discussion in the text

Figure 1. A calendar fragment, Fr 25594 (Kal 2, 2r) from Skara Diocese, which contains the month of September and shows the liturgical rank in the right column. For example, at the end of the first row in black, “ix l’c” indicates 9 lessons, while mem[oria] indicates a day of remembrance. The feast days written in red ink are probably festum fori/terrae. Photo: Sara Ellis Nilsson.

Moreover, additions and, if identifiable, removals (crossing or rubbing out) of feast days provide evidence for new saints, as well as changes to how saints were venerated and whose feast days were observed. Additions of the type of observation beside feast days also give an indication as to the importance of a saint’s feast at a later date. Additions of liturgical rank beside feast days provide additional evidence that a cult received renewed attention and the feasts were not just passive names in a calendar. However, these additions do not necessarily indicate a new manifestation of the cult. Adding a liturgical rank could also be a top-down activity and these saints were not necessarily celebrated.

Thus, observation and liturgical rank are key to understanding two different aspects of feasts. The current project’s focus is on lived religion; as a result, the observation of a feast – whether only by the clergy or by the entire community, including laypeople – is regarded as significant evidence for a saint’s feast day being a part of the lives of both clergy and laypeople. It provides clues as to which days would have affected the everyday lives of laypeople: when they were required to attend church or when they would have at least half a day off manual labour.

In my next post, I will discuss my work in classifying and organizing evidence from the calendars to include in our database. This work includes how to interpret the dating of source material – an important part when studying history – as well as a look ahead to my planned analyses of the development of saints’ feasts in medieval Sweden and Finland.



John Harper 2001. The Forms and Order of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sven Helander 1959a. “Festgrader”. In John Granlund (ed.). Kulturhistoriskt lexikon för nordisk medeltid (KLNM). Malmö: Allhems förlag, pp. 241–243.

Sven Helander 1959b. ”Festum chori o. festum fori”. In John Granlund (ed.). Kulturhistoriskt lexikon för nordisk medeltid (KLNM). Malmö: Allhems förlag, pp. 243–244.

Sven Helander 1959c. ”Festum terrae”. In John Granlund (ed.). Kulturhistoriskt lexikon för nordisk medeltid (KLNM). Malmö: Allhems förlag, pp. 244–245.



Fragments of a Year: Saints’ Feasts in Swedish and Finnish Medieval Calendars (Part I)

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

Part I: the Sources

The start of another (Gregorian calendar) year provides a fitting opportunity to present an important source for the cults of saints in the medieval period: the Calendars. These perpetual timekeepers were full of information about, among other things, the months and days of the years, important liturgical celebrations, the “golden numbers” used to calculate Easter, and saints’ feast days. Calendars were included in other works, such as liturgical books, chronicles, annals, and treatises.[1] Regarding the cults of saints, they provided instructions as to the observation and liturgical rank of saints’ feast days.


January calendar fragment with feast days from Linköping Diocese

Fr 27557 (Mi 666, Mi753) – 15th-century Calendar fragment for January in use in the Linköping Diocese


For the earliest period, that is from the 12th to the 14th centuries, the Swedish Calendar material is fragmentary. However, for the end of the medieval period, entire liturgical works, such as printed breviaries and missals, still survive and include complete calendars. This way of organizing the year was valid until just prior to the Reformation. In order to chart the development of saints’ days, the early calendar fragments, in combination with the printed works, are important. Once a part of over 6000 manuscripts – from theological treatises to liturgical books – it is, in fact, lucky that these mutilated codices survived at all. These volumes were considered obsolete in the ecclesiastical reforms which occurred in the wake of Martin Luther’s reformation and, in the Nordic countries, were collected in order to be re-purposed.

Thus, as one of the consequences of the Reformation in the Nordic countries, these discarded manuscripts were re-used, among other things, as parchment covers on account books or binding reinforcements. In itself, re-using the parchment was not unusual in the medieval period as parchment, being costly and valuable, for worn-out books was often re-purposed in some way.[2] In Sweden, it was King Gustav Vasa who made this particular decision to re-use the pages as wrappers for his accounts. The practice was then later continued by his sons. In fact, nearly all of the accounts of the Chamber Archives are bound in old church books.[3] These included pages from liturgical books including their accompanying calendars.

Before discussing the calendars further, it is important to give a brief overview of the work that has been done identifying and cataloguing the parchment fragments. The systematic collection and re-use of these parchment leaves meant that they were preserved in the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet and Kammararkivet) and, eventually, in Helsinki in the Senate Archives and then in the National Library of Finland (Helsinki University Library). In Sweden, by 1930, Antonie (Toni) Schmid (1897-1972) began cataloguing and collating the fragment material about which the National Librarian Isak Collijn (1875-1949) had originally written an account. Oloph Odenius was Schmids assistant in the cataloguing endeavour from the 1950s and he continued her work after she left the archives.[4] Their project was re-vitalized in 1995 by Jan Brunius (Swedish National Archives), together with Gunilla Björkvall (Stockholm University) and Anna Wolodarski (National Library of Sweden). Over the next decade, the MPO-project (Medeltida PergamentOmslag, or medieval parchment covers) aimed to complete Schmids Catalogus Codicum Mutilorum (CCM) – i.e. catalogue of mutilated manuscripts – and catalogue the fragments in a database that is now available online: the Database of Medieval Parchment Fragments.

As for the material preserved in Finland, it is estimated that the fragments once comprised 1500 volumes. After Finland was annexed by Russia in 1809, the documents related to Finnish and Russian territories formerly belonging to Sweden were moved to the Senate Archives. From the mid-19th century, a process of removing the medieval parchment fragments from the account books and tax records began. This collection was then moved to what was then called the Helsinki University Library, now the National Library of Finland. The first attempt to systematically catalogue the material was started in the early 20th century by Toivo Haapanen (a musicologist), who was interested in the liturgical material. A church historian, Aarno Maliniemi, studied the calendar fragments around the same time.[5] However, it was first in the 1970s that Anja Inkeri Lehtinen commenced the next step in the cataloguing of the fragment material, in particular the theological and legal texts. After this, a number of scholars actively catalogued various categories of material in the 1980s and 1990s, for example Ilkka Taitto’s research into the antiphonaries. Finally, in the early 21st century, Tuomas Heikkilä led a project focussing on literary culture, rather than on specific book categories. One of the results of this project was a catalogue of previously uncatalogued fragments and the beginnings of a digital research database of the fragments.[6] The resulting database was the first released in the Nordic countries. More recently, work on the fragments has also been published by, among others, Jaakko Tahkokallio, Ville Walta, and Jesse Keskiaho. The resulting catalogue and digital images of the Fragmenta Membranea Collection are available online in the Fragmenta membranea database: http://fragmenta.kansalliskirjasto.fi .

As part of this project, I am studying the development of saints’ feasts in the Ecclesiastical Province of Uppsala by analyzing the addition and removal of feasts in the Calendar fragments. Using digital methods to compare and map the calendars, these results will be compared to the final version of the liturgical year that was established in the printed Calendars before the Reformation. More on this part of the project will be the subject of my next blog-post.



[1] See also, Kathleen Doyle and Cristian Ispir, “Medieval Calendars” (British Library, 2019), https://www.bl.uk/medieval-english-french-manuscripts/articles/medieval-calendars, Accessed 2020-01-04.

[2] This occurred in all three kingdoms Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. An overview of research on the fragments in Norway and a digitized catalogue can now be found online, here: https://fragment.uib.no/ . For Denmark, see, e.g. Åslaug Ommundsen & Tuomas Heikkilä (eds.), Nordic Latin Manuscript Fragments: The Destruction and Reconstruction of Medieval Books (Routledge, 2017).

[3] Jan Brunius, “Medieval manuscript fragments in the National Archvies – a survey”, in Jan Brunius (ed.), Medieval Book Fragments in Sweden (The Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, 2005).

[4] For more info see, “Antonie (Toni) E M Schmid” (by Jan Brunius) in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (1917-): https://sok.riksarkivet.se/Sbl/Mobil/Artikel/6390  and Jan Brunius, “Foreword” in Jan Brunius, From Manuscripts to Wrappers: Medieval Book Fragments in Swedish National Archives (Skrifter utgivna av Riksarkivet 35, 2013).

[5] Tuomas Heikkilä, “Research on parchment fragments”, The National Library of Finland Bulletin 2012. 2012. https://www.kansalliskirjasto.fi/extra/vanhat_bulletinit/bulletin12/article1.html Accessed: 2020-01-14. See also, the collection description: https://www.kansalliskirjasto.fi/en/collections/fragmenta-membranea-collection

[6] Heikkilä, “Research on parchment fragments”, https://www.kansalliskirjasto.fi/extra/vanhat_bulletinit/bulletin12/article1.html