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

Postat den 15th January, 2020, 17:49 av Sara Ellis Nilsson

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: .

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),, 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: . 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-):  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. Accessed: 2020-01-14. See also, the collection description:

[6] Heikkilä, “Research on parchment fragments”,


Det här inlägget postades den January 15th, 2020, 17:49 och fylls under archives Calendars feast days Finland fragmentology liturgy Sweden

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