Santa Maria Novella, one of the most sublime churches in Tuscany, needs no general introduction. The Wiki article SMV gives a very good overview. The focus of this article is on the amazing meridian dial inside the church itself.

First, I should mention the 2 famous dials on the facade, the subject of much interest, investigation, and analysis including detailed articles by BSS. I plan to feature both separately in due course. On the left is an armillary sphere; on the right is an astronomical quadrant. They are the work of Egnatzio Danti, astronomer to Cosimo I, and were installed c1570.

The Museo Galileo has a comprehensive website here MG and is a superb resource for historical science. Exhibits include 2 of Galileo’s telescopes. In 2007 it held a remarkable dial-based exhibition called The Line of the Sun. The entry for SMN includes all 3 dials and gives a succinct account of their creation and significance. I am adapting / adopting some entries from the museum’s explanations.


Background: Between 1572 and 1575, the cosmographer Egnazio Danti (1536-1586) installed on the façade of Santa Maria Novella no less than three astronomical instruments: a great quadrant with sundials; an equinoctial armillary; and two ‘camera obscura gnomons’. These instruments were designed to be used for new astronomical calculations linked to the project for reforming the Julian calendar…

Meridian Dial: Although Danti designed the dials he was unable to complete the tracing of the meridian line on the floor of the church. He only opened gnomonic holes, first in the glass of the rose window, then on the church’s façade, much higher, and made two openings in the vaulting as well, through which rays of light would pass only during the equinoxes and the winter solstice.

Operation: The entrance of the sunbeam was through the two gnomonic holes. The pinhole on the rose-window would have allowed [the measurement of] time during the entire year. The pinhole on the façade would have allowed the same reading only in the days of the equinoxes and of the winter solstice (IMSS Multimedia Laboratory).


Gnomon holes on the facade in the rose window (70′ high) and just below the pediment


Basilica of Santa Maria Novella . Firenze . Meridian Dial – Keith Salvesen

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella . Firenze . Meridian Dial – Keith Salvesen

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella . Firenze . Meridian Dial – Keith Salvesen

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella . Firenze . Meridian Dial – Keith Salvesen

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella . Firenze . Meridian Dial – Keith Salvesen

Egnazio Danti – Instituto Comprensivo



Wiki cc – header image / close-up

‘photo tsettle’ – gnomon hole positions

All dial photos – Keith Salvesen

SMN (Wiki Arch.)

LLUC MONASTERY . MALLORCA . COMPLEX MULTI-DIAL: from Canonical to 20th Century

Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)
Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial (Keith Salvesen)

The secluded Monastery of Lluc is situated near Escorca in the Tramuntana mountains of Mallorca. It dates from the c13, and is famous for its Black Madonna, the discovery of which is said to have led to the monastery’s foundation . It is a place of pilgrimage. The location is remote and peaceful, though inevitably the monastery has become an essential stop on the tourist and coach party trail. We returned there recently, not having visited Mallorca for more than 20 years. The buildings were much as we remembered, but the parking and visitor arrangements were more regimented and complex. Before, one just drove down the narrow road from the main mountain road and parked in the forecourt area close to the buildings. Now, everything is (unsurprisingly) geared to a daily mass influx of people and their needs for sustenance and souvenirs. We were pleased to see that it is still possible to stay at Lluc in one of small rooms under a long covered walk where the monks once slept. You can even book a room for the night.

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial

A short walk from the monastery, there is a path that leads up to a calvary and some great views. Along the way is an amazing multiple vertical sundial. It was designed by Rafael Soler, and carved in 1991. It displays with some style the evolution of sundials from medieval to modern. There are two historical dials, one solar dial, and two seasonal dials.


This dial simply records the 3-hourly canonical divisions of the liturgical day (as with the early medieval mass / scratch dials), starting with midnight (top) and working counterclockwise round a central gnomon. 

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial (Canonical)


A more complex dial, starting at noon shown as XXIV (I’m not clear why not XII) through to 21.00. The dial includes months and the signs of the Zodiac.

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial – Babylonian / Mallorquines


The centre dial shows true solar time. The polar gnomon (triangular) shows the hours, the pointer shows the date with the declination lines. The inscription MULIER AMICTER SOLE (Woman Clothed by the Sun) references an account in the Book of Revelations. You can find out more HERE

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial


The two right-hand sundials are complementary and each covers two seasons. Presumably for a particular month, one dial will be reliable as to time and the ‘off-season’ one will not. The words are Catalan eg Hores Mitjanes = Mean Time; Estiu I Tardor = Summer and Autumn.

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial


Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial
BBS Record

The creation of these dials was obviously a labour of love and skill combined. There’s doubtless plenty more to be said about these sundials and the splendid ensemble but I decided not to get too technical – indeed, as an amateur I don’t understand enough to do so. The rather washed out appearance of the images was operator error – I had the camera on the wrong settings and didn’t realise until too late…

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca

GSS Category: canonical to modern multi-dial; sundial Lluc Mallorca

All photos: Keith Salvesen; snippet from BSS record

Original Credits: ‘Props to arby101ca and lumbricus, members of a geocaching & waymarking website called Groundspeak. They hiked to Lluc (respect!) and wrote informatively about these dials. I found relatively little elsewhere.