‘ UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A SUNDIAL ON THE PONTE VECCHIO

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‘ UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A SUNDIAL ON THE PONTE VECCHIO

This article was written a while back, in the pre-Covid era. Now I have a sundial site up and running, this dial and some others from Florence have a new space.

 

Florence in January.  -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak. 

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Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo op’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.

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Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.

If you look closely, you’ll see, halfway up the south face of the hexagonal column, a lizardsundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-1

Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them. 

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CAIUS COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE – GATE OF HONOUR SUNDIAL

Gonville and Caius College Cambridge – Sundial over the Gate of Honour

This handsome modern set of dials was installed in 1963 as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of the college’s re-foundation by John Caius. There are 6 vertical sundials, arranged in 3 pairs placed round the hexagonal tower. They were designed by astronomer and Fellow, Dr Message, and the Junior Bursar Dr Powell. The bronze dial faces are painted with vitreous enamel. They replace the original set of sundials dating from 1557, of which only traces remained.

There is something very satisfying about this set of dials. The symmetry, the proportions, the materials, and the design all seem to work in harmony. Cambridge colleges have many sundials between them, many original and ancient (Queen’s College sundial is a perfect example). Of the modern dials, the Gate of Honour is adorned by arguably the finest.

Gonville and Caius College Cambridge – Sundial over the Gate of Honour

The college has three gates that represent the stages of academic life: matriculation, entered through the Gate of Humility; undergraduate life, with regular passage through the Gate of Virtue during a student’s career; and finally graduation, with students passing through the Gate of Honour to the Senate House to receive their degrees.

Gonville and Caius College is one of the oldest colleges of Cambridge University. It was founded in 1348 by Edmund Gonville, who has suffered the cruel fate of rarely being mentioned nowadays; the college is almost invariably referred to simply as ‘Caius’, after John Caius, the man who re-founded the college in 1557 at a time when it had fallen on hard times.

52.2057 / 0°7’1″E / TL447584

GGS Category- Modern Dial

STANTON GLOS (2) – ST MICHAEL – SCRATCH DIAL and SUNDIAL

Stanton Glos. St Michael & All Angels

DEDICATION † ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS Saxon origins, Norman features, mainly C13 to C15

LISTING † GRADE 1

LINKED POST † STANTON 1 – VILLAGE CROSS SUNDIAL

LOCATION † STANTON is four miles north of Winchcombe, one of several attractive Cotswold villages in the immediate area. Many of the local churches feature scratch dials, Glos. as a whole being a hotspot. The Church of St Michael has, besides a scratch dial, a time-worn sundial over the porch. 52.0067 / -1.9013 / SP068342

DIALS † The scratch dial is on the right side of the fine projecting porch towards the edge, and easily visible as you approach. It looks as elementary a circle dial as one could imagine. The sundial is set high on the parapet above the doorway, seemingly old, definitely battered, and with a tilted gnomon.

Stanton Glos. St Michael & All Angels . Scratch Dial

STANTON: THE SUNDIAL

Stanton Glos. St Michael & All Angels . Sundial
Stanton Glos. St Michael & All Angels . Sundial

NOTES † Apart from inclusion in TW‘s extensive list of Glos. dials, I have found no further information. Not referenced in BHO / BLB / HE. For interest: the VG Stanton website notes “several bench ends are deeply ringed by the dog-chains of the sheepdogs, brought by their masters to church” and that stone benches in the porch were for the infirm to sit on and lean against the wall: “the weakest go to the wall”.

LINKS † Tony Wood TW: Mass Dials in Gloucestershire LINK ; Stanton Village Church online LINK

GSS Category – Scratch Dial; Old Dial

VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT: DOUBLE DIAL

Double sundial, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Pyrénées-Orientales

VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT is a small medieval walled town in Catalan country. It is watched over by Fort Liberia, one of VAUBAN‘s massive defensive constructions in this historically strategic area. The town is charming, and additionally famous for being the start of the ‘Train Jaune’, a picturesque narrow-gauge railway that climbs high into the Pyrénées. The amazing altitude rise is from 1250 ft at Villefranche to 5000 ft at the track’s summit just above the village of Mont Louis (which has its own Vauban fort) 

The sundial above is high up on a house in the church square, next to the Mairie with its Catalan flag. It doesn’t exactly draw the eye and would be very easy to miss. Its overall appearance is endearingly wonky.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

TWO DIALS IN ONE

The main dial is etched and painted on cement, with roman numerals that mark hours, halves and quarters. The long gnomon is attached beneath a small sculpted head from which sun rays radiate – a simple representation of a solar deity. Above the head can be seen numbers, of which only 11 and 8 can be made out with any certainty. Possibly, it is a date: the dial (which is not ancient) is otherwise undated and it is very hard to guess its age. I can find no explanation for the initials DS (top left, Gothic font) and ER (top right, normal font). 

The small dial-within-a-dial with graduated radials shows the hours only, with arabic numerals. The bent gnomon points straight down. I am unsure of its purpose as a supplementary – and rather overshadowed – dial on the same plane, but the overall effect is pleasing.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

INSCRIPTION

The words “COM MES SOL FA MES BE ESCRIC” are Catalan and mean roughly “When it is sunny, I write (show the time) well”. This rather charming inscription was apparently added in around 2000 by the village pastor.

Credit: for information, Michel Lalos, who has compiled a comprehensive illustrated record of the sundials of the Pyrénées-Orientales.

STANTON GLOS (1) – VILLAGE CROSS SUNDIAL

Village Cross with Sundial – Stanton Glos

STANTON is a most attractive Cotswold village four miles north of Winchcombe, with several other equally agreeable villages nearby – Stanway for example. Many of the local churches feature scratch dials – this area (and Glos. in general) being a hotspot. I will cover some of these in due course.

The Church of St Michael has – besides a scratch dial – a sundial over the porch. In addition, Stanton has a fine sundial in the main street, mounted on the village cross. The cross is a Grade II listed Scheduled Monument, with Calvary steps that are medieval and formed the base of a Wayside cross. The shaft is later, and the dial, orb and cross perhaps later still. The sundial, dated to C17, is just one part of the harmonious whole. It’s a fine dial but there are obvious reservations about the gnomon and its fixing…

LOCATION 52.0067 / -1.9013 / SP068342

Village Cross with Sundial – Stanton Glos
Village Cross with Sundial – Stanton Glos

GSS Category – Old Dial

HARDINGTON MANDEVILLE – ST MARY

St Mary . Hardington Mandeville . Som

DEDICATION † ST MARY – 1123 (on earlier site)

LISTING † II*

LOCATION † SW of Yeovil, near E & W Coker 50.9048 / -2.6949 / ST512119

An extended village close to the A30 yet approached by lanes (as they are actually named) rather than roads. A peaceful feel to it, especially at dusk when this poor photo was taken. The church had ‘much work’ carried out in C15 and C18. Tower probably of 1123, in three stages, font possibly from same date. BLB

DIAL † At the W. end and quite easily overlooked. DEH did not investigate or list it in 1915. A full circle, one clear radial and a square style hole. Possible trace of outer circle top left.

NOTES † Not mentioned in BLB, HE. Not in TWC extensive list of Somerset dials. I found only one reference to this dial that led me here; since then, one passing reference to a sundial in the porch – perhaps this dial relocated in C15?

NOTADIAL † A plausible dial location quite low on arch of the W. door; apparent style hole but no detectable marks

GSS Category – Scratch Dial

BUCKLAND NEWTON – HOLY ROOD

Church of the Holy Rood . Buckland Newton . Dorset

DEDICATION † CHURCH OF THE HOLY ROOD – from C13, mainly C15

LISTING † Grade 1

LOCATION † Buckland Newton, Dorset 50.8461 / -2.4449 /  ST687052

A peaceful village just north of the source of the River Piddle, lying discreetly in a valley amidst hills and downland. Roland Grant pronounced it “a lovely church”, adding that his first impression was unfavourable because the exterior had been rendered in cement, “giving the Perpendicular square tower the look of a Foreign Legion fort”. Notwithstanding, it has a terrific self-dating sundial (1704)

DIAL † High up at the centre of the embattled parapet above the substantial porch, an impressively angled dial. The perforated gnomon casts its date 1704 onto the face of the dial. I was lucky to visit in bright winter afternoon sunshine to catch the effect (Im.2). Incised initials IH & EC. 4 crosses around the dial edge.

Church of the Holy Rood . Buckland Newton . Dorset † Sundial
Church of the Holy Rood . Buckland Newton . Dorset † Gnomon & date
Church of the Holy Rood . Buckland Newton . Dorset † Sundial
Church of the Holy Rood . Buckland Newton . Dorset † South Porch, Sundial, Cement

GSS Category – Old Dial

SUTTON BINGHAM – ALL SAINTS

DEDICATION † ALL SAINTS – C12 / C13

LISTING † Grade 1

LOCATION † Closworth, Somerset (nr Yeovil) 50.8978 / -2.6443 /  ST547111

Close to the W. shore of Sutton Bingham reservoir, tucked behind the Manor House up a track, a small and simple church dated from 1111AD with a wonderful interior, in particular the well-preserved wall paintings / murals of C13 / C14. One of the bells is dated to c1250

DIAL † DEH – dial 220 Type 3 June 16th, 1915

“This dial, which is faint, contains few lines and is probably in its primitive condition. The wall is Norman work and does not appear to have been restored.  is on the s.w. corner of the nave. It is about 6 feet above the ground, the noonline is 9 inches in length, the stylehole, which is in a joint, is filled and does not show, and the aspect is s. by 10° e”

All Saints Church . Sutton Bingham . Somerset
All Saints Church . Sutton Bingham . Somerset

GSS Category – Scratch Dial

THORNFORD – ST MARY MAGDALENE

St Mary Magdalene Thornford Dorset (Keith Salvesen)
St Mary Magdalene, Thornford, Dorset

DEDICATION † ST MARY MAGDALENE – C14 / C15, later restoration

LISTING † Grade 2*

LOCATION † S. of the Sherborne – Yeovil A30 road, approx half way between the towns 50.9175 / 50°55’3″N /  ST603132

One of the larger local villages, with more facilities than most inc. a school, a pub, a nearby station & a cricket club. In Doomsday book as Torneford

DIALS † Two unusual ‘sill’ scratch dials, both in the quoins of the E. corner of the window sills either side of the blocked chancel doorway, with the window jambs acting as gnomon

St Mary Magdalene Thornford Dorset Scratch dial 1a
Thornford – window scratch dial 1a
St Mary Magdalene Thornford Dorset Scratch dial 1b
Thornford – window scratch dial 1b
St Mary Magdalene Thornford Dorset Scratch dial 2a
Thornford – window scratch dial 2a
St Mary Magdalene Thornford Dorset Scratch dial 2b
Thornford – window scratch dial 2b

NOTES † Stone screen, c15 font, early organ, a number of Consecration crosses, from badly eroded Hamstone to clear-cut. Tithe Tomb in the churchyard with a basin into which tenants contributed to the wealth of the Lord of the Manor by making an annual payment ‘on St Thomas’s Day’ to be allowed to keep their own hay

St Mary Magdalene Thornford Dorset Scratch dial location
Dial locations: E. corner of each window sill, jamb acting as gnomon

GSS Category – Scratch Dial

WRAXALL – ST MARY

St Mary Wraxall Dorset

DEDICATION † ST MARY – C12 nave and chancel; later additions include bellcote & S. porch

LISTING † Grade 1

LOCATION † North-west of Maiden Newton 50.8054 / -2.6035 / ST575008

A very small secluded Dorset hamlet (comprising Lower & Higher) with a handful of houses, a handsome ford, and 2 rushing feeder streams for the upper River Frome.

DIALS † ‘On S. wall of nave, remains of two scratch-dials, reused’ (BHO)

Wraxall St Mary Dial 1a
Wraxall St Mary Dial 1b
Wraxall St Mary Dial 2a
Wraxall St Mary Dial 2b
Wraxall St Mary Dial Locations

GSS Category – Scratch Dial

Photos – Keith Salvesen