236.—Saxon Emblems of the Month of Marchdetails

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236.—Saxon Emblems of the Month of March




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Here we see a hunter with a horn and spear; a man pruning trees with a scythe (or possibly climbing fences with a banana); a man digging with a spade in the field, loosening the soil; another with a pick-axe; and a barefoot man scattering seeds. One is reminded of the parable of the seeds that fell on stony ground! I am also reminded of the Anglo-Saxon ploughman [US: plowman] who complained of the “muckle cold”!


The picture in the Saxon Calendar (Fig. 236) now gives us distinctly the seed-time. But the tools of the labourers are the spade and the pickaxe. We are looking upon the garden operations of our industrious forefathers. They called this month “Lenet-monat,” length-month (from the lengthening of the days); “and this month being by our ancestors so called when they received Christianity, and consequently therewith the ancient Christian custom of fasting, they called this chief season of fasting the fast of Lenet, because of the Lenet-monat, wherein the most part of the time of this fasting always fell.”

The great season of abstinence from flesh, and the regular recurrence through the year of days of fasting, rendered a provision for the supply of fish to the population a matter of deep concern to their ecclesiastical instructors. In the times when the Pagan Saxons were newly converted to Christianity, the missionaries were the great civilizers, and taught the people how to avail themselves of the abundant supply of food which the sea offered to the skilful and the enterprising. Bede tells us that Wilfred so taught the people of Sussex. “The bishop, when he came into the province, and found so great misery of famine, taught them to get their food by fishing. Their sea and rivers abounded in fish, and yet the people had no skill to take them, except only eels. The bishop’s men having gathered eel-nets everywhere, cast them into the sea, and by the help of God took three hundred fishes of several sorts, the which being divided into three parts, they gave a hundred to the poor, a hundred to those of whom they had the nets, and kept a hundred for their own use.” The Anglo-Saxons had oxen and sheep: but their chief reliance for flesh meat, especially through the winter season, was upon the swine, which, although private property, fed by thousands in the vast woods with which the country abounded. Our word Bacon is “of the beechen-tree, anciently called bucon, and whereas swine’s flesh is now called by the name of bacon, it grew only at the first unto such as were fatted with bucon or beech mast.” As abundant as the swine were the eels that flourished in thier [sic] ponds and ditches. The consumption of this species of fish appears from many incidental circumstances to have been very great. Rents were paid in eels, boundaries of lands were defined by eel-dykes, and the monasteries required a regular supply of eels from their tenants and dependents. We find, however, that the people had a variety of fish, if they could afford to purchase of the industrious labourers in the deep. In the ‘Dialogues of Alfric,’ which we have already quoted from Mr. Turner, there is the following colloquy with a fisherman: “What gettest thou by thine art?—Big loaves, clothing, and money. How do you take them?—I ascend my ship, and cast my net into the river; I also throw in a hook, a bait, and a rod. Suppose the fishes are unclean?—I throw the unclean out, and take the clean for food. Where do you sell your fish?—In the city. Who buys them?—The citizens; I cannot take so many as I can sell. What fishes do you take?—Eels, haddocks, minnies and eel-pouts, skate and lampreys, and whatever swims in the river. Why do you not fish in the sea?—Sometimes I do; but rarely, because a great ship is necessary there. What do you take in the sea?—Herrings and salmons, porpoises, sturgeons, oysters and crabs, muscles, winckles, cockles, flounders, plaice, lobsters, and such like. Can you take a whale?—No, it is dangerous to take a whale; it is safer for me to go to the river with my ship than to go with many ships to hunt whales. Why?—Because it is more pleasant for me to take fish which I can kill with one blow; yet many take whales without danger, and then they get a great price; but I dare not from the fearfulness of my mind.” We thus see that three centuries after Wilfred had taught the people of Sussex to obtain something more from the waters than the rank eels in their mud-ponds, the produce of the country’s fishery had become an article of regular exchange. The citizens bought of the fisherman as much fish as he could sell; the fisherman obtained big loaves and clothing from the citizens. The enterprise which belongs to the national character did not rest satisfied with the herrings and salmons of the sea. Though the little fisherman crept along his shore, there were others who went with many ships to hunt whales. We cannot have a more decisive indication of the general improvement which had followed in the wake of Christianity, even during a period of constant warfare with predatory invaders. (p. 67)

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