The Summer Solstice is upon us! The longest day of the year begins tomorrow, June 21, at 5:14 a.m. Then, in almost infinitesimal increments, nights will begin to lengthen as the summertime moves toward autumn.
In the Middle Ages, long before climate control and GMOs, the summer solstice, often referred to as Midsummer, marked the halfway point to harvest time. Lachlann, our hero in Tremors Through Time, would have cared about that in his medieval days. But I don't believe he would have been terribly concerned about what year it was. He was too busy living his life to count the years. And then time does a trick on him...
How important is time and the counting of it? Except for documentation, does what year it is really matter? I suppose it would depend upon whom you ask.
Julius Caesar...some ego, right? He would decide that time should be considered to have begun at the beginning of his reign. Henceforth, at least to the Romans (whose dominion was far and wide), the counting of years was based on the consulship. For example, "this is the second year of so and so's rule". It didn't take long for it to become obvious that that method wouldn't work forever. The Julian calendar had other problems, too -- major issues with leap years and the Easter tables. That last thing, the Easter tables, was a subject worthy of an 800-page volume of work, amongst many other documents. My simple summary is "how to set the date for Easter".
It took an early medieval man to get things under control. The dating of Easter was a serious concern and cause of contention for the Church. Pope John I requested a monk to look into the matter, but not just any monk. Dionysis Exiguus (Latin - Dionysis the Humble) was highly respected for his brilliant scholarship. He set about righting the Easter tables. He also invented a system -- the system -- of numbering years from the Incarnation of Christ. At the time, from all his gathered resources, he calculated that 525 years had passed. He referred to the system as Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. In other words, he approximated that it was the year 525 A.D. His system was incorporated into the Julian calendar. Nowadays, the more commonly used terms might be CE -- for Common Era -- and BCE -- Before the Common Era -- but the years are still based upon Dionysus Exiguus' calculations.
But the calendar still had problems. By the 1500s (over a thousand years later), it was so misaligned with the solar calendar that the (northern) spring equinox was occurring long before its expected date in March, which again threw off Easter dates. It took another medieval man -- actually more than one -- in the High Middle Ages to right the fiasco. Pope Gregory XIII wanted the Easter issue resolved. Aloysius Lilius, an Italian astronomer, and Christopher Clavius, a German mathematician, were the primary architects of what came to be known as the Gregorian calendar. The auspicious day of the new calendar was October 15, 1582.
One of the first printed editions of the new calendar, printed in Rome by Vincenzo Accolti in 1582.
The Gregorian calendar isn't universally accepted, although most countries have adopted it as at least their civil calendar. It's also not perfect. But it's been working well enough for over four hundred years thanks to some prolonged medieval finessing.
For more medieval fun, be sure to visit the blogs of these marvelous medieval ladies,
Mary Morgan and Barbara Bettis.
Happy Medieval Monday! Happy Summer Solstice!
Dionysis Exiguus (c. 470-c. 544) Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585)
It's no secret that I prefer fat HEAs. Where better than in a beautiful romance?
From me to you with a smile.
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