Do you have the time?
By definition, astronomical clocks sound straightforward. They’re
timepieces that, in addition to the standard time, also measure and display astronomical
information including the phases of the moon, the position of the sun, the
zodiac and sidereal time, which is time measured according to the position of
the stars, not the sun.
By construction, astronomical clocks are much more
Like long-toed shoes and apple wine, these intricately
designed and often imposingly large structures that combined art, engineering
and a growing understanding of the complex universe around us, were all the
rage in medieval Europe. And you better believe that these dazzling,
horological statement/timepieces could almost always be found in the hottest
spots in town: the town square or inside a large cathedral.
While the complex mechanics of astronomical clocks were
impressive for the time, it was their eye-popping ornamentation that garnered
much of the attention back then as they continue to do today. Many astronomical
clocks produced from the 14th through the 16th centuries
could be described as super-pious cuckoo clocks with a celestial bent. Crowds
still gather for daily shows, which more often that not include a brief but
mesmerizing parade of bell-ringing automatons representing saints, apostles and
other religious figures. It’s during these crowd-drawing moments that these
centuries-old clocks don’t just track time … they truly come alive.
Amazingly, so many of these ancient astronomical clocks — clocks that have survived war, religious upheaval and the advent of the Swatch — are still very much ticking. A true testament to early European ingenuity, some
early astronomical clocks have been functioning nonstop, with most of their
original parts, for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
Along with a few newer additions, here are several
hour-keeping, planet-tracking, works of medieval art that have stood the test
of time — all the while keeping it, of course.