LES CADRANS SOLAIRES DE ST GEORGES de BOSCHERVILLE
This decorative sundial – one of two – is something rather special. It is both elegant and complex, and must have taken a long time to devise and lay out accurately. It stands in the extensive grounds of the fine Abbey Church of St Georges de Boscherville in Normandy. I managed to get the last small pamphlet in the Abbey bookshop. Even then I failed to understand the sundial properly, and not simply because of my rusty but workable French. I’m not even going to attempt to describe the dial, but it was easy to photograph in detail in its picturesque setting, and I have included a shot of the explanatory plaque at the end for the science-minded.
One fact I learnt is that until WWII, France was on Greenwich Meantime. During the occupation, the Germans changed the time zone to Central European time, a practice that has remained ever since.
A simple Romanesque church, the oldest in Calavados, dating from mid C11 with subsequent additions. There is scant information online – a few notes converted from French to English. Over the centuries the church was damaged by battles, by lightning strike, and sundry other misfortunes. One source notes In the 17th century the nave was amputated. By late C18 the church was abandoned and in C19 designated a Historic Monument. In C20 it was adapted as a cultural space for concerts and art exhibitions.
This large dial is above the entrance doorway. It has roman numerals and a cross key decoration. There is no gnomon. The lower half is quite eroded. Mortar repair has been carried out rather enthusiastically. There is no date, and it is hard to determine how old the dial is. St Pierre was disused by 1800 so the dial, under its time-worn lintel, seems unlikely to have been added later. On the other hand there’s a sense that the present dial is a replacement for an older one. But a great deal older than the final one shown here.
For comparison, the dial below is in Colmar (quite near Strasbourg). It never saw 1582.
Céret lies south of Perpignan, in the foothills of the Pyrenees quite close to the Spanish border. The Hermitage is a short distance to the north. The modern art museum in Céret has many works by Picasso, including sculpture and ceramics; and by other famous artists of the period.
This enjoyably rustic sundial is painted directly onto the facade of the C13 chapel (restoration C18). It is intriguing for the way in which the radials are moored, carefully graduated, on the diagonal of the dial face. The arrow gnomon forms part of the opposite diagonal. As an amateur, to me the design of the dial looks quite complicated, especially the calculation of the angle and distance between 11 & noon.
I am still trying to work out the inscription at the top. It seems to be ‘Ultimum’, which could be a neat Latin way of saying something like ‘To the end of Time / Jusqu’ à la fin du temps’
Artistic inspiration led to the installation of an astonishing modern ‘sundial’ in the ruins of the sublime C12 Abbey of Jumièges. This complex time-measurer of the religious day is quite unlike any other I have seen, or expect to see. I have no idea quite how it was conceived or executed. It truly is the interface of Science and Art.
It is the work of Jacques Leclercq-K (as he designates himself). ‘Les heures canoniales 2016’ is an enormous 10m high / 3m wide structure, yet it succeeds in being extraordinarily delicate.
The 48 long sharp needles of these ecclesiastical stalactites and stalagmites form a remarkable screen within their space in the ruins. Each is marked with its own significance in the greater scheme of the hourly divisions and rites of the church.
The subtitle of the work translates as a relation between the elevation of the Benedictine monks and celestial radiance. One surprising feature is the ease with which such a very modern concept works with the ancient structure that frames it, and with the architectural details such as the Piscina (below).
As Leclercq explains, the canonical times of day and night are divided into 8 parts, beginning at midnight, and each announced by a ring of bells. These segments – each with a specific liturgical significance – are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline (see diagram). The rod representing each canonical hour is marked with a blue dot and the initial letter of the relevant hour.
It is worth noting that many of the medieval mass or scratch dials featured elsewhere in this site are incised (or roughly marked) on the local church for the benefit of the populace, and include the canonical hours as kept in that community. These may be emphasised by being deeper or wider cut, or by being extended, or by having a pock or even a cross at the end of the radials.
Truly, Leclercq’s work is a modern art installation and scientific wonder rolled into one delicate structure. It is Scripture as Sculpture
The beautiful C12 Abbey of St Georges de Boscherville in Normandy is very much in the Michelin ‘vaut le voyage’ category. Advantage has been taken of the extensive abbey grounds to display innovative bee-hives and an excellent display of modern sundials. The most complex will feature here in due course. Meanwhile, enjoy this attractive sundial with its cleverly effective gnomon.
The motto Tant ici passerent le temps passé nous passons means roughly ‘So much past time has passed here; we (also) pass’. It sounds better in the original.
LOCATION This handsome church is set scenically in the middle of extensive vineyards on all sides, a few miles south-east of Épernay. It is a notable distance from the nearest house. The church dates from 1202. The romanesque tower, nave, transept and apse were built later, around 1560. 49°00′16″N 3°55′50″E
DIAL The dial – which from a distance looks rustic – is in a prominent position carved into the stone lintel above the side-door, a very clear indicator of the progress of the day for the locals working in the fields. It is in excellent condition, perhaps thanks to its high location and to the clean air. The radials are spaced with some precision. A narrow double circle is supplemented by a less clear or eroded wider circle. There are several dots in plausible places; conversely, few if any dots on the rest of the lintel. My amateur guess is that the relative sophistication of the dial suggests that it was cut later than the date of the doorway. Any views on this are welcome – there’s a comment box below.
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.
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.
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.