by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Here we are again, back to the ancient Loaf Mass, which signals the high harvest time, when the grain and fruit is ripening in earnest and the heaviest farm labor is required of subsistence communities. In this bountiful scene, farm families work together to bring in their grain. In the distance, on the next hill, probably a place with good sun and drainage, another field of grain can be seen. Whole families are here, sometimes whole villages, all working together, "making hay while the sun shines" and, this being Holland in the early 17th Century, that probably didn't happen all that often.
In my grandfather's childhood in upstate New York, he said the entire town turned out to participate in wheat and corn harvests. Originally, the early (and expensive) farm machinery was owned in common and everyone pitched in as fields ripened, in order that the grain could be brought in the way that maximized the "take" for all. This helped keep the small farms profitable, but it would require a strong social organization and a real group imperative among neighbors.
An Excerpt from Roan Rose which takes place on Lammas follows:
Lammas was a day for bringing bread and cakes for the Queen of Heaven. We village women also took time to decorate St. Alkelda's Well. The pavement around sputtered with lights. Offerings of bread and fruit were delivered in small baskets. Everyone brought something, and everyone, if they chose, could take something away. The priest took a tithe of this offering, but he did not forbid us the ancient devotion by the water, which has happened in other places.
One summer when they were staying at Middleham, Anne brought Richard to the well. Whether she’d meant to pass here or not, it was on the way to our village church, which they had been going to honor with their presence. With the strange pull remaining between us, we all arrived at the well at the same time.
I’d arrived first and was in the act of arranging my gifts upon the steps, when the Duke and Duchess appeared. On my knees, just having lit a candle with a twist of straw, I turned, and there they were. They’d seen me too. I knew they sometimes missed me, but they missed the girl of long ago.
Today, kneeling I was just another peasant woman, broadening as I ate less meat and bore children, my freckled skin burnt by the sun. I stayed where I was and watched others pause and bow. The priest was with them, as well as the family chaplain and a clerk. The priest’s eyes lit upon me with irritation.
"She makes more of an offering at the well than in the church, does Mistress Fletcher."
"Rose?" Duke Richard chose to pay attention to him.
"I do not deny it, my gracious Lord."
"Is not the Mother of Our Lord as important as your saint?" I'd hoped for a gleam of something like humor in Richard's eye, but it wasn't there.
"My eldest child, as you know, noble ones, is called Alkelda." I was as humble as I knew how to be and indicated my daughter’s solemn little face. “I have a special devotion to our saint."
The priest nodded wearily. He had heard this tale one hundred times and from one hundred different women. Churchmen have listened to this excuse since the beginning of the rule of the fathers. Lady Anne laid a white restraining hand upon her husband's arm.
"Mistress Rose has a deep devotion to Our Lady, this I know."
Richard was mildly surprised. Anne was not the sort of noblewoman who was in the habit of telling her husband what to do, at least, not in public.
"Today she tends our Holy Well. These offerings, My Lord husband, are for the poor, for the old and infirm." She used the alarmed male silence which followed to strike home the nail. "As you must remember, here it is of old our custom."
There was a pause in which Richard studied us, the women, children and grannies of town bowed down at his feet.
"My Lady reminds me that charity is ever a blessed custom. It shall not shorten, even by a tithe."
The priest bowed, his pale face curdled milk. The rest of us bowed again as Lady Anne went past on her husband's arm. She was, like Our Lady Herself, a blessed intercessor.
Anne offered the nosegay she'd carried and a hank of bright blue silken thread, which we village women would later share out among us. When the lord and lady moved on, the crowd parted. As in the Earl of Warwick’s day, there’d be a pig brought from the castle for our feast...
Click for the link to My novels