The collection of the National Museum of the Middle Ages is housed in a wonderful building, at one time an abbatiale. There is some debate about the dates of the origins and the building of the Hôtel; and of later rebuilding / restoration. The large sundial on the south wall of the courtyard is dated 1674. This was the reign of the Sun King (1643 – 1715), and a sun with its rays was an obviously fitting theme for the times.
The lines on the dial face are carefully graduated and the hours marked with Arabic numerals. Several lines terminate in arrows, suggesting a busy schedule of mainly forenoon masses.
NIL SINE NOBIS. A. B. F. 1674.
The inscription is usually translated as Nothing [Exists] Without Us. Margaret Gatty (1809-18730, in her comprehensive work The Book of Sun-Dials, gave the Cluny dial an unusually detailed entry:
|802.||NIL SINE NOBIS. A. B. F. 1674. Nothing exists without us.|
A dial on the wall of a courtyard on the south side of the Hôtel Cluny, Paris, had this inscription. The word nobis referred to the rays of the sun which were represented on its face. The Hôtel Cluny, a very beautiful specimen of rather elaborate fourteenth century Gothic architecture, was bought in 1625 for the abbess and nuns of Port Royal, and was known as Port Royal de Paris. It was re-established by Louis XIV. in 1665, on a fresh basis, and was looked upon as schismatic by the community of Port Royal des Champs. This dial must have been erected in the time of the first abbess of the new foundation, Sœur Dorothée Perdreau, who held office till 1684.
SCALLOP SHELLS and HERALDIC MOTTOS
The scallop shells are interwoven with two inscriptions (or possibly a single one in two parts) which deserve a mention as part of the overall design. The shells themselves evidence an ancient Pilgrimage route that passed close by – the long Rue St Jacques is a few meters to the North.
The heraldic mottos are said to read, firstly: Servire Deo Regnare Est – To Serve God Is To Reign; MG suggests, without much conviction, that the other (or part of it) may be as shown below.
With very rusty Latin and a bit of internet work, I can’t make either interpretation fit the scrolls we can see. Possibly they relate to a different part of the Musée, and the shell one(s) are different. I’ll have to leave the reader to try to puzzle this out (all suggestions welcome).
GSS Category: Early Sundial / Vertical Dial; French Sundial; Sundial Motto
Credits: all photos Keith Salvesen – please seek use permission for these detailed ones; Musée Cluny for the Unicorn