The astronomical clock in Wells Cathedral is the world’s oldest clock still functioning with its original dials. The mechanism, which was built somewhere between 1386 and 1392, was replaced and taken to the Science Museum in London in the 19th century. The clock represents the Earth with the sun and moon orbiting around it, following the geocentric view of the universe that prevailed before the pre-Copernican revolution. The internal ring of the clock marks the Phases of the moon, the middle ring marks the minutes in an hour and the outer ring shows the 24 hours of the day in Roman numbers.
Churches are home to amazing artefacts. In some cases, an a priori ordinary object such as the church clock, can become a real highlight, either because of its appearance, operation or the information it provides. Here are six amazing church clocks you must know about in Europe.
The clock of the Church of Our Lady of Nuremberg (Germany) is one of the most eye-catching elements of its façade. Known as Männleinlaufen, the clock was built in 1509 and every noon, tourist and passersby gather in front of it to see seven automated figures step out of it in a parade around the central figure representing Emperor Charles IV on his throne. The scene commemorates the “Golden Bull of 1356”, an imperial decree issued by Emperor Charles IV laying the constitutional foundations of the Holy Roman Empire. Certainly, an original way to remember this chapter of history.
Another small but charming parade can be seen every noon in the chancel of Münster Cathedral. In this case, the Three Wise Men pass in front of the figure of Mary and the baby Jesus, guided by the Star of Bethlehem. Just below the figure of Mary and the Christ Child, the astronomical clock built in 1540 marks the position of the stars, the phases of the moon and the position of the sun in the corresponding sign of the zodiac.
The church of San Giacomo di Rialto is said to be the oldest church in Venice, founded in 421. The prominent 15th-century clock on its tower was an important element for the functioning of the Rialto market that took place in the vicinity of the church. A curious characteristic of this clock is that it completes its turn at 24 o'clock rather than 12 o'clock like most clocks. Furthermore, the 12 o'clock midday and midnight are not at the top or bottom of the clock circle, but right and left.
The tower of the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta doesn’t have one, but three clocks. The larger one shows the time, while the two smaller clocks below it indicate the day of the week and month. The name of the clockmaker can still be read in a Latin inscription below the large top clock: "Clerici invenit". The clocks, which were painted directly on the sandstone wall of the tower, were repainted during the restoration of the Cathedral's façade between 2014 and 2017.
Another rare example of church tower with multiple clocks can be found in Tolentino, Italy. At the back of the Church of Saint Francis stands the so-called "Torre degli Orologi" (Clock Tower), an icon of Tolentino. The tower has four clocks: the top one shows the phases of the moon, the second shows the different sections of each hour, the third shows the hours of the day, and the fourth shows the days of the week and month.