In the Julian calendar the dominical letters are readily found by means of a short cycle, in which they recut in the same order without interruption. The number of years in the intercalary period being four, and the days of the week being seven, their product is 4 × 7 = 28; twenty-eight years is therefore a period which includes all the possible combinations of the days of the week with the commencement of the year. This period is called the Solar Cycle, or the Cycle of the Sun, and restores the first day of the year to the same day of the week. At the end of the cycle the dominical letters return again in the same order on the same days of the month; hence a table of dominical letters, constructed for twenty-eight years, will serve to show the dominical letter of any given year from the commencement of the era to the Reformation. The cycle, though probably not invented before the time of the council of Nicaea, is regarded as having commenced nine years before the era, so that the year one was the tenth of the solar cycle. To find the year of the cycle, we have therefore the following rule: - Add nine to the date, divide the sum by twenty-eight; the quotient is the number of cycles elapsed, and the remainder is the year of the cycle.
Should there be no remainder, the proposed year is the twenty-eighth or last of the cycle. This rule is conveniently expressed by the formula ((x + 9) / 28), in which x denotes the date, and the symbol r denotes that the remainder, which arises from the division of x + 9 by 28, is the number required. Thus, for 1840, we have (1840 + 9) / 28 = 66-1/28; therefore ((1840 + 9) / 28) = 1, and the year 1840 is the first of the solar cycle. In order to make use of the solar cycle in finding the dominical letter, it is necessary to know that the first year of the Christian era began with Saturday. The dominical letter of that year, which was the tenth of the cycle, was consequently B. The following year, or the 11th of the cycle, the letter was A; then G. The fourth year was bissextile, and the dominical letters were F, E; the following year D, and so on. In this manner it is easy to find the dominical letter belonging to each of the twenty-eight years of the cycle. But at the end of a century the order is interrupted in the Gregorian calendar by the secular suppression of the leap year; hence the cycle can only be employed during a century.
In the reformed calendar the intercalary period is four hundred years, which number being multiplied by seven, gives two thousand eight hundred years as the interval in which the coincidence is restored between the days of the year and the days of the week. This long period, however, may be reduced to four hundred years; for since the dominical letter goes back five places every four years, its variation in four hundred years, in the Julian calendar, was five hundred places, which is equivalent to only three places (for five hundred divided by seven leaves three); but the Gregorian calendar suppresses exactly three intercalations in four hundred years, so that after four hundred years the dominical letters must again return in the same order. Hence the following table of dominical letters for four hundred years will serve to show the dominical letter of any year in the Gregorian calendar for ever. It contains four columns of letters, each column serving for a century. In order to find the column from which the letter in any given case is to be taken, strike off the last two figures of the date, divide the preceding figures by four, and the remainder will indicate the column.
The symbol X, employed in the formula at the top of the column, denotes the number of centuries, that is, the figures remaining after the last two have been struck off. For example, required the dominical letter of the year 1839? In this case X = 18, therefore (X/4) = 2; and in the second column of letters, opposite 39, in the table we find F, which is the letter of the proposed year.
It deserves to be remarked, that as the dominical letter of the first year of the era was B, the first column of the following table will give the dominical letter of every year from the commencement of the era to the Reformation. For this purpose divide the date by 28, and the letter opposite the remainder, in the first column of figures, is the dominical letter of the year. For example, supposing the date to be 1148. On dividing by 28, the remainder is 0, or 28; and opposite 28, in the first column of letters, we find D, C, the dominical letters of the year 1148.