From Dawn to Dusk


Ora Prima, 6am – Before sunrise, Mateo wakes up, gets up, and wipes his face hands and neck with water. He eats a bit of food, yesterday’s bread and a little red wine watered down. He packs a bit of food for lunch and makes his way down the lane to attend mass before work. After mass Mateo makes his way to what he hopes will be his work for the spring, which is conveniently a small building beside the church.

Mezza Prima – After talking with the foreman and receiving his tasks for the day and being told how much pay those tasks will provide, Mateo begins to transport water and sand for the mortaring of the bricks that will form the expanded chapel. This chapel is for the family of Signor Vittorio di Giovanni.

L’ora Terza, 9am – The site is full of workers because this job needs to be done very quickly. There is a blacksmith for preparing internal parts and tools, stonemasons, transporters, and overseers.

L’ora Sesta, Noon – When the sun is almost at its peak Mateo stops to rest a while and eat the food he brought from home. He has packed bread, pork, and watered wine in a skin for himself. He refills it from the well to have some on hand as he returns to work.

L’ora Nove, 3pm – Workers continue with their tasks as engineers visit the site to discuss final touches that will make sure they have interpreted the will of their Lord Giovanni properly. Mateo stops to eavesdrop but is called back to work by the supervising stonemason. The work cannot slow down or there will be trouble!

Il Vespro, 6pm – The sun is setting and signals the end of work for the day. The workers hopes are confirmed with the chiming of the bells six times. Mateo receives his wages for the day (4 soldi) and begins to walk home along the road with his co-workers. Mateo boasts about seeing the daughter of Pope as she rode through Florence on her way to meet her betrothed in France. At a certain point they stop to sit on a low wall (panca da via or muricciolo) bordering the road. The type of wall can be found on most major roads against the walls of the houses that line the lane. He begins his story here and, not to lose the ear of his listeners, suggests they continue as the Osteria del Rosso. They enter the tavern and benefit from the heat of the great fireplace. Mateo retrieves his wooden bowl and spoon from the bag he carries on his hip. He takes bread from the table (banchetto) and allows soup to be poured from the common pot.

Compieta, 9pm – Time passes quickly between sips of wine and bites of bread and Mateo now realizes it is dark outside. He pays for his meal, puts away his things in the bag and lights his tallow candle in the fireplace so he can see better on his way home. Mateo still has a way to go, and tomorrow will be another tiring day. He will arrive home, check the ash in the fireplace and go to bed.


The Julian calendar (calendario quella guiliana) was in use as an official timetable during our period, and it established January 1st as the beginning of a new year, but there were plenty of unofficial traditions that lingered: England used December 25th, Northern France the 1st of March, and in many southern France and Italian towns it was Easter day (first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21st).

An average Monday begins with ora prima (about 6am), l’ora terza (9am or three hours after sunrise/6am), l’ora sesta (noon), l’ora nove (3pm), il vespro (sundown/6pm), and compieta (9pm). Monks rose earlier and have mass at midnight (mattutino) and prayers at 3am (laudi).

Time was measured by:

  1. Bells (campane) like the belltower (campanile) of the local church cattedrale.
  2. Sundials (quadranti solari or meridiane)
  3. Watches/Clocks (orologi meccanici), which adorned the city tower in places like Padua from the 1300s on.
  4. Hourglasses (clessidre) used for measuring shorter periods of time, like sermons or school hours.

SOURCE Il Tempo del Lavoro by Jaques le Goff, 1988


3 thoughts on “From Dawn to Dusk

  1. You got the part about sleeping wrong. In the Middle Ages people didn’t go to sleep and sleep through the night until the next morning like we did- it was too dangerous, with all the fire hazards around in a city and wild animals/criminals in rural settings (not to mention imaginations running wild).

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