minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the category “Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry”

Good Friday





The scenes from the Good Friday found in the famous book of hours, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, show a progression of events from the Crucifixion to the entombment of Christ. In a similar way the Stations of the Cross, a lenten devotion, takes us on a spiritual pilgrimage along the journey of Christ from his being condemned to the entombment. It is understood that from noon to 3:00 Christ suffered on the Cross, and then He died. During this time, silence, contemplation, reflection, or devotions like the Stations should bring us all to a place of stillness as we consider the profound implication of God dying.

I suppose to many people today there may not be much meaning in the gospel, especially the gory and brutal segment concerning the Crucifixion. People have spent too much time inventing ways to avoid the problem of things like sin, shame and guilt. Some to the point that they don’t even believe in such ideas anymore, making allowance and exception for their actions, though they often don’t make the same exceptions for the actions of others. G.K.Chesterton stated that the easiest way to avoid the problem of sin was to simply say that there is no sin, and this may be the way of the world today. Responsibility means letting others deal with the consequences of my actions and accountability has become a series of pointing fingers at the next guy. Not that things were really different during the time of Christ. After all things like blame and corruption started right from the garden. They have been there from the start and will be there til the end. But here in the story of Christ, and especially in this retelling of the Passion, we come face to face with the consequences of our actions and watch as another takes our blame. And as God is bent low, crushed and broken, and the last breath escapes from the Incarnation, I am left there as a bystander with the gift of forgiveness staring back at me with eyes fading.


December from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

December from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

December has arrived! The last month of the year and the last installment of the Roman months series we started last Ianuarius. Through the year we have been following the art from the Tres Riches of Jean Duke de Berry, with special attention to the calendar scenes which accompany the feast days through the liturgical year.

This fascinating Book of Hours is a wonderful timepiece into the culture and spirit of the Middle Ages. Many more beautiful scenes from Biblical stories fill the rest of this religious book which are certainly worth a look at for those interested. The art work is the result of a combination of artists starting with the Limbourg brothers and being completed by Jean Columbe in the 15th century.

This month our scene shows a hunting party which has taken down a wild boar. The trees are all brown and bare letting us know that winter is right around the corner. The structures in the background are the Château de Vincennes. Built in the 14th century the castle was originally a royal hunting lodge, which apparently was still used in this fashion during the time of the Duke of Berry. The castle still stands today but several of the towers that are seen in this picture are gone. The castle has through the ages served as a prison, a library, a residence and even as temporary storage for the relics of the Crown of Thorns.

The Chateau de Vinceness today.

The Chateau de Vinceness today.

The Month of December was originally the 10th month of the year and it’s name comes from the Latin word decem, (10). It was and still is the last month of the year, but originally it’s end didn’t start the new year. Rather there was a monthless period of winter which was later filled in with the addition of January and February.

December is a month which prepares for the Christ Mass on the 25th, and while the holiday is often crowded and over run by the modern hum drum of commercialism and the very sad pessimism which burns at the heart of modernity, it is my hope that we can all find the time to feel the stillness and silence and peace which this season is all about. It goes with the theme of this site, minima maxima sunt : the small things are the great things; and is at the heart of the Catholic faith as it proclaims the Birth of a Child who is the incarnation of the Most High God.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of December are:

2. First Sunday of Advent, Sunday
3. Francis Xavier, Memorial
6. Nicholas, Opt. Mem.
7. Ambrose, Memorial
8. Immaculate Conception, Solemnity
9. Second Sunday of Advent, Sunday
11. Damasus I, Opt. Mem.
12. Our Lady of Guadalupe (USA), Feast
13. Lucy, Memorial
14. John of the Cross, Memorial
16. Irenaeus, Gaudete Sunday
21. Peter Canisius, Opt. Mem.
23. Fourth Sunday of Advent, Sunday
24. Christmas Eve, Sunday
25. Christmas, Solemnity
26. Stephen, Feast
27. John, Feast
28. Holy Innocents, Feast
29. Thomas Becket, Opt. Mem.
30. Holy Family, Feast
31. Sylvester I, Opt. Mem.

Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum

Purgatory from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

The Feast of All Souls follows All Saints day and like All Saints it speak about the mystery of the Church; that it is something bigger than what we understand. The Communion of Saints is a consideration of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church, and places us face to face with the reality that even the universe is too small a place for the church.

In Catholic teaching the church is made up of the those who are in heaven, those who are on earth and also those who are in a state of purification which in the west we have termed as Purgatory. The Church triumphant, militant and suffering, all make up what is known as the Mystical Body of Christ.

As such the Feast of All Souls is about the church suffering. The Feast is also called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. On this day we remember all who have left us and offer prayers for those who are in Purgatory. Further it sets the tone for the rest of the month as November is a month devoted to praying for those in Purgatory. On All Souls day a person can obtain two plenary indulgences; one for visiting a church and one for visiting a cemetery which benefit those in purgatory. Along with these, prayers can be offered, candles lit in remembrance, and sometimes cemeteries will be open and provide candles for honoring the dear departed.

Day of the Dead celebration

In some countries the feast is a much larger affair than in the U.S. For instance, in Mexico the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a national holiday. Held on All Saints and All Souls, there are parades and celebrations, people wear masks of the dead which are brilliantly decorated and will make altars with pictures, and candles to remember a lost loved one.

Other traditions are the making and distributing of Soul Cakes, which originated in Brittain in the Middle Ages. The Cakes, or Cookies were given to children, and would represent prayers for the dead or souls being freed from purgatory.

The 60’s folk group Peter Paul and Mary recorded a song based on an old rhyme for soul cakes, called “A’ Soalin”

Soul, soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him what made us all!
Soul cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul, and three for Him who made us all.

Gravesites decorated on All Souls Day

This may help to explain a little of the origins of modern Halloween with it’s masquerade and treat giving. But the bigger picture in all of this is an idea about the church and it’s completeness. The Mystical Body of Christ as an organism, a single body which prays beyond the boundaries of life and death. It speaks of the privilege and responsibility to intercede not only for the welfare of the living but also of the dead, and also explains that heaven will not just be a matter of clouds and harps, but that even the Saint in Heaven will continue to participate in the Body of Christ through prayer.


November from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The eleventh month of the year in our calendar is November and like the last two months it’s name comes from Roman numbering. Novem is the Roman word for nine which gives this month it’s name because in the original Roman calender there were only 10 months, November being the 9th.

November is a month that is most associated with harvest. Winter is approaching and Autumn is fully under way, and because of this we see the idea of harvest in several of this months holidays. The feasts of All Hallows and All Souls, as well as the American holiday; Thanksgiving. It should be easy to see the relation of harvest to Thanksgiving, but a little less to for the feasts of Hallowmas. In fact, the feast was a christianised version a pagan feast called Samhain, which was a harvest celebration.

In the Liturgical year November is the last month. Advent, which prepares for the Nativity, begins four weeks before the Christ mass, and will fall between November 28th and December 3rd. Many may remember, when they were young, how lights would begin to appear, lamp posts would begin to be decorated with bells, angels, and candy canes right after Thanksgiving.

Keeping with the idea of harvest, this months scene from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry shows a beautiful Autumn scene, with pigs harvesting acorns. The Acorn Harvest, provides plenty of nuts from the oak trees which the pigs love to eat. The effect of this is to make a very delicious pork, called Mast-Finished Pork or in keeping with the traditional scene here, Acorn-Finished Pork. This ancient tradition is regaining popularity today, and the price of pork which has been Acorn or Mast (acorns, hickory nuts, other nuts) Finished, can sport a lofty price.
The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of November are:

1. All Saints, Solemnity
2. All Souls, Feast
3. Martin de Porres, Opt. Mem.
4. Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
9. Lateran Basilica, Feast
10. Leo the Great, Memorial
11. Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
12. Josaphat, Memorial
13. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Memorial
15. Albert the Great, Opt. Mem.
16. Margaret of Scotland; Gertrude, Opt. Mem.
17. Elizabeth of Hungary, Memorial
18. Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
21. Presentation of Mary, Memorial
22. Cecilia, Memorial
23. Clement I; Columban; Bl. Miguel Agustín Pro (USA), Opt. Mem.
24. Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions, Memorial
25. Christ the King, Solemnity
30. Andrew, Feast


October from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Of the four months that still retain the Roman numbering for their names, October might be the one most easily recognized as having an association with the number eight. Other words based off the Roman word octo, such as every kids favorite sea creature, the Octopus, may have helped to make the tie in. (O.K. Sharks may be more popular than the octopus). Octagon, Octave, and Octuplets, may have also tipped off many. The old Roman calendar did not contain January or February, which meant the year only had ten months, making october the eighth.

From my childhood and to this day, the autumn has been my favorite season. Even naming the month of October sends a stream of nostalgia into my thoughts. Cool brisk mornings, leaves changing color and the cap off of the month; Halloween.

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry offers a grand view of the Louvre in the 14th century. Standing tall beyond the walls it is the backdrop for another Calendar in this famous Book of Hours. In the forefront we see fields being tilled and sowed; and an archer stands beyond. In the distance, people are walking on the waterfront of the Seine under the massive walls that surround the Louvre.

The Louvre was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century. In the 14th it was turned into the palace we see here. The palace would eventually be demolished and several new phases of developement would take place over the next centuries. Around 16th century is when the Louvre begins to make it’s trasition into it’s current state, being used to host galleries and artistic salons. In 1793 the Museum Central des Arts is opened by the post revolution government.

The Louvre today.

Today the Louvre is one of the worlds largest museums, displaying among many wonderful pieces of art, the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Venus de Milo, and the Supper at Emmaus by Rembrandt.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of October are:

1. Therese of the Child Jesus, Memorial
2. Guardian Angels, Memorial
4. Francis of Assisi, Memorial
5. Faustina Kowalska, virgin, Opt. Mem.
6. Bruno; Bl. Marie Rose Durocher (USA), Opt. Mem.
7. Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
14. Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
15. Teresa of Jesus, Memorial
16. Hedwig; Margaret Mary Alacoque, Opt. Mem.
17. Ignatius of Antioch, Memorial
18. Luke, Feast
19. Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf and companions (USA), Memorial
20. Paul of the Cross, Opt. Mem.
21. Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
23. John of Capistrano, Opt. Mem.
24. Anthony Claret, Opt. Mem.
28. Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday


September from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

September is the first month which, in English, is still spelled exactly like it was in Latin. September comes from the Latin for seven, Septem, and was the seventh month before January and February were added to the calendar, which pushed to to the ninth. In the northeast where I grew up September meant the beginning of a new school year and usually by the third week of the month signs of autumn would begin to appear. In Alaska, where I spent most of my adult life, fall was usually over by the third week of September and sign of winter would begin to appear as termination dust, the first snows, would begin to appear on mountain peaks.

The Château de Saumur

In the calendar page for September in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry we find a beautiful castle, The Château de Saumur, which still stands today. Peasants are in the fields harvesting grapes, and in the picture of the Château as it stands today you can see that vinyards are still active.

Wine making in Europe during the middle ages owes a lot to the Church. In fact it was the church’s use of wine in it’s sacramental life that helped bolster the winemaking industry in europe during these years. In Spain where there was a stronger influence of Islam, winemaking suffered. The Catholic countries all continued to make wine and, like beer making in the middle ages, the making of wine finds some of it’s greatest artisans in the monastic communities.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of September are:

2. Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
3. Gregory the Great, Memorial
8. Birth of Mary, Feast
9. Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
12. Most Holy Name of Mary, Opt. Mem.
13. John Chrysostom, Memorial
14. Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Feast
15. Our Lady of Sorrows, Memorial
16. Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
17. Robert Bellarmine, Opt. Mem.
19. Januarius, Opt. Mem.
20. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions, Memorial
21. Matthew, Feast
23. Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
26. Cosmas and Damian, Opt. Mem.
27. Vincent de Paul, Memorial
28. Wenceslaus; Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Opt. Mem.
29. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Feast
30. Twenty-Six Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday


August from the Très riches heures du duc de Berry

August was originally the sixth month of the year and it’s Roman name was Sextilis. It became the eighth month when January and February were added around 700 BC and its name was changed to Augustus in 8 BC by Julius Caesar.

Augustus was the first Emperor and founder of the Roman Empire, but he was never referred to as Emperor, choosing the term Princeps Civitasor “First Citizen”. It was during the reign of Augustus that the “Roman Peace” began and is during this time that the Incarnation occurs with the Nativity of Christ which is figured to be anywhere from 4 BC to 9 AD.

Château d’Etampes today

Our picture from the Duke of Berry’s famous Book of Hours, shows a classic summer scene with a Middle Age twist. The Château d’Etampes takes the scene in the background, rising into a blue summer sky, in the foreground a company of travellers or possibly a hunting party? Leading the company is a Falconer. And in the center, between all this we see a group of people enjoying a nice swim in the cool waters of a lake. This is interesting, to me, because it is another proof against one of those “myths” about the middle ages which claims that people who lived then didn’t take baths and therefore smelled bad.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of August are:
1. Alphonsus Liguori, Memorial
2. Eusebius of Vercelli; Peter Julian Eymard, Opt. Mem.
4. John Vianney, Memorial
5. Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
6. Transfiguration, Feast
7. Sixtus II and companions; Cajetan, Opt. Mem.
8. Dominic, Memorial
9. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Opt. Mem.
10. Lawrence, Feast
11. Clare, Memorial
12. Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
13. Pontian and Hippolytus, Opt. Mem.
14. Maximilian Kolbe, Memorial
15. Assumption, Solemnity
16. Stephen of Hungary, Opt. Mem.
19. Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
20. Bernard, Memorial
21. Pius X, Sunday
22. Queenship of Mary, Memorial
23. Rose of Lima, Opt. Mem.
24. Bartholomew, Feast
25. Louis of France; Joseph Calasanz, Opt. Mem.
26. Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
27. Monica, Memorial
28. Augustine, Memorial
29. Martyrdom of John the Baptist, Memorial



The month of July was originally called Quintillis, which denotes it as the 5th month. In the old roman calendar the year began with March. The first months were named after things like roman gods and such, but starting with Quintillis the months were numerically named. The re-naming to July was made by Augustus to honor Julius Ceasar.

In America, July celebrates the nations holiday of Independence on the 4th; however, July also sees independence days, for Belarus, Algeria, Argentina, the Bahamas, Columbia, Belgium, Maldives, Peru and Vanuatu.

Continuing with the theme of calendar pictures from the Très riches heures Duc de Berry, we see July in the middle ages. This month views the bastion of the Château du Clain in Poitiers rising behind peasants laboring in the heat of summer, shearing sheep and working the fields. Poitiers was a frequent residence of the Duc de Berry but the Château is no more.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of July are:

1. Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday
3. Thomas the Apostle, Feast
4. Independence Day (USA), Opt. Mem.
5. Anthony Mary of Zaccaria; Elizabeth of Portugal, Opt. Mem.
6. Maria Goretti, Opt. Mem.
8. Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
9. Augustine Zhao Rong and companions, Opt. Mem.
11. Benedict, Memorial
13. Henry, Opt. Mem.
14. Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha (USA), Memorial
15. Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
16. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Opt. Mem.
18. Camillus de Lellis (USA), Opt. Mem.
20. Apollinaris, Opt. Mem.
21. Lawrence of Brindisi, Opt. Mem.
22. Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
23. Bridget, Opt. Mem.
24. Sharbel (Charbel) Makhloof, Opt. Mem.
25. James, Feast
26. Joachim and Anne, Memorial
29. Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
30. Peter Chrysologus, Opt. Mem.
31. Ignatius of Loyola, Memorial


June from The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

June has come and summer arrives. The Sixth month of the year lends to us the longest days in the northern hemisphere. It is the month of Midsummer’s Eve, which is the summer solstice. I remember June in the northeast as a child, hot and muggy, but cooler in the evening. School was ending and summer break beginning. The dusk would be filled with fireflies so that a Midsummer’s Dream seemed a real place. To this day, fireflies bring out the kid in me, reminding me of the wonder of summer vacation beginning.

June is the last month in the Old Roman calendar to have a non-numeric name; however later reforms to the calendar would add July and August re-naming the first two numeric months of Quintilis and Sextilis. June is thought to be named after either the Roman goddess Juno, or that it follows an alternate etymology for May (maiores “elders”) which is iuniores “juniors or young ones”.

The Sainte Chapelle

The scene from the Très Riches for June shows people working the field and in the background the Palais de la Cité and the Sainte Chapelle. The Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel) was consecrated in 1248 and was commissioned by Louis IX of France to house relics from the Passion, one of which was the Crown of Thorns. An interesting note on this is that Jean, Duc de Berry, is said to have recieved several of the thorns from the crown from Charles V and VI.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of June are:

1. Justin, Memorial
2. Marcellinus and Peter, Opt. Mem.
3. Trinity Sunday, Solemnity
5. Boniface, Memorial
6. Norbert, Opt. Mem.
9. Ephrem, Opt. Mem.
10. Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Solemnity
11. Barnabas, Memorial
13. Anthony of Padua, Memorial
15. Sacred Heart of Jesus, Solemnity
16. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Memorial
17. Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
19. Romuald, Opt. Mem.
21. Aloysius Gonzaga, Memorial
22. Paulinus of Nola; John Fisher and Thomas More, Opt. Mem.
24. Nativity of John the Baptist, Solemnity
26. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, Opt. Mem.
27. Cyril of Alexandria, Opt. Mem.
28. Irenaeus, Memorial
29. Peter and Paul, Solemnity
30. First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, Opt. Mem.


April from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

April comes along as the fourth month of the year, but in ancient times was the second. The origin of the name for April is unknown, but some theories suggest that it comes from the Latin verb Aperire which means “to open”. The spring equinox having just passed, April would see the first signs of the coming summer as plants would begin to “open up” and flower. Another possible explanation would tie April to Aphrilis, a Latin rendering of the Greek Goddess Aphrodite.

Le Château de Dourdan today.

Continuing in the theme of using the months from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry book of hours, the scene above for the month of April shows a couple exchanging engagement rings in the presence of their parents. Women pick flowers and trees are now clothed in green. In the background is the Chateau de Dourdan. Built in the 13th century (1220’s), it became the property of the Duke of Berry in 1385.

April has several holidays, one of which is an old Roman holiday known as the Natalis urbis Romae (The birthday of Rome) was celebrated on the 21st of April. Rome was founded sometime during the 8th century B.C. between 728 and 758.

Another lesser known holiday is the holiday of the Lucky Fool, which lands on April the 7th. April starts with the fools day and seven is called the lucky number. If you haven’t heard of this holiday that’s probably because it’s only about 43 years old, and was first celebrated in 1969.

The Christian holiday of Easter (Pascha in eastern christianity) usually lands on a day during the month of April, though it can come as early as March 22, for western churches. The differences between the east and west for their dates of Easter come from methods of dating and the calendars used, the Gregorian or Julian. Regardless, the holiday celebrating the Resurrection is the central holiday in the church, ending the Lenten season and beginning Eastertide, which will last until Pentecost Sunday. For all christian people this is the central theme of their religion. In relation to this is a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, who created a word called Euchatastrophe. The term means a sudden turn of events which occur in a story where the hero is spared certain doom. Tolkien claimed that the “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in Joy.”

The week before Easter is known as Holy Week, and begins with Palm Sunday which will be on April 1st this year. Holy Thursday ends the Lenten season and the period from evening on Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday is known as the Paschal Triduum and remembers the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Feasts from the General Roman Calendar for the month of April are:

1. Palm Sunday, Sunday
5. Holy Thursday, Triduum
6. Good Friday, Triduum
7. Holy Saturday, Triduum
8. Easter Sunday, Solemnity
9. Easter Monday, Solemnity
10. Easter Tuesday, Solemnity
11. Easter Wednesday, Solemnity
12. Easter Thursday, Solemnity
13. Easter Friday, Solemnity
14. Easter Saturday, Solemnity
15. Divine Mercy Sunday, Solemnity
21. Anselm, Opt. Mem.
22. Third Sunday of Easter, Sunday
23. George; Adalbert, Opt. Mem.
24. St. Fidelis, Opt. Mem.
25. St. Mark, Feast
28. Peter Chanel (NZ, Feast); Louis Mary de Montfort; Gianna Molla, mother (Italy), Opt. Mem.
29. Fourth Sunday of Easter, Sunday
30. Pius V; Bl. Marie de l’Incarnacion (Can), Memorial

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