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

18:06 by Sara Ellis Nilsson

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.


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