Sundials/Time/California Missions

“And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun

But it’s sinking

Racing around to come up behind you again

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older

Shorter of breath and one day closer to death…”. – Pink Floyd

Recently I visited the Santa Barbara mission and in the cemetery I saw it. A sundial. To most anyone unfamiliar, or likely a young person, a sundial would appear to be some form of bird feeder, or even lawn art.

Most young people today can’t tell time on a non digitized clock, and most old people today weren’t around when the sundial was in use; nor do most know how to read it to tell time.

It can be a little complicated to use. I believe it’s far easier to teach someone how to tell military time on a clock than it is to teach them how to read a sundial. Here are the instructions for using a sundial.

The time telling part of this particular sundial uses three concentric circles.

First you need to know your roman numerals to use a sundial. One place they are still often used on is clock faces so they should not be that unfamiliar.

The notations IV and IX can be read as “one less than five” (4) and “one less than ten” (9), although there is a tradition favouring representation of “4” as “IIII” on Roman numeral clocks.

Other common uses include year numbers on monuments and buildings and copyright dates on the title screens of movies and television programs.

MCM, signifying “a thousand, and a hundred less than another thousand”, means 1900, so 1912 is written MCMXII.

For the years of this century, MM indicates 2000. The current year is MMXXI (2021).

The Inner circle of the sundial is divided by ray lines into hours stretching from 5AM to 7PM.

Why those times you might wonder? Sunrise and sunset.

The middle circle is divided into twice as many areas for telling the half hour, while the small outer circle is divided by four times as many ray lines to tell the quarter hour.

Once again the hours are marked by Roman numerals. On either side of the sundial needle is the latitude that the sundial is located on 34º 27′. This is extremely important to know if you are a mariner.

Around the outer edge of this ornate sundial are the latin words, “UMBRAE TRANSITUS EST VITA NOSTRA. ET NON EST REVERSIO FINIS NOSTRI. SAP. 2. 5. “, which roughly translates to

“The passing of a shadow is our life. And there is no back of our end.”

In a small circle around the needle in the center are the words “NIL BONI HODIE DIEM PERDIDI”, which translates to

“Nothing good, I have lost a day”.

North and south point in the direction of the local longitude meridian (a half circle), which is toward the axis of rotation.

While East and west point in the direction of the local latitude circle.

Shadows are always opposite to the Sun’s position in the sky.

The shortest shadow occurs when the Sun is highest in the sky.

While the longest shadow occurs when the Sun appears on the horizon, so during sunrise and sunset.

The time of the shortest shadow occurs halfway between sunrise and sunset. 

Finally under a cross and two crossed outstretched arms in a banner emblem at the top are the words “ABSIT GLORIARI NISI IN CRUCE DOMINI NOSTRI JUSU CHRIST”, which means

“Never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Around the edge of the four inch think marble stone, in large letters, are the words, “In Memoriam of Jane C. Donahue 1869-1927”. RIP.

The Earth’s axis of rotation orients our coordinate system of latitude and longitude. 

Since the Earth is a rotating sphere that orbits the Sun, Earth’s latitude and longitude are connected to the Sun’s illumination of the Earth. 

The Sun’s position in the sky tells us time, direction, and location in our orbit. 

A sundial lets us track the Sun’s movement throughout the day and year, turning it into a clock, a compass, and even a calendar.

Things that you should know:

You cannot use a sundial at night!

North and south point in the direction of the local longitude meridian.

East and west point in the direction of the local latitude circle.

Shadows are always opposite to the Sun’s position in the sky.

The shortest shadow occurs when the Sun is highest in the sky.

The longest shadow occurs during sunrise and sunset.

The shadow on the sundial will not be seen if the Sun is directly overhead.

Up until the early 19th century sundials were the main instrument that people used to tell time. If they are correctly placed, sundials can be used to accurately tell time even down to the minute!

And what replaced the sundial you might ask? The Clepsydra.

The theory was based on the fact that water in a bowl would flow through an opening at a reasonably steady pace. Another form of the Clepsydra is the Hour Glass which replaced water with sand.

“Far away

Across the field

Tolling on the iron bell

Calls the faithful to their knees

To hear the softly spoken magic spell”

– P.

Make it a point to also visit the Santa Barbara mission. In my opinion it is one of the better ones to visit.

Trawlercat 4/19/2021

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