Astronomical clock – Wells Cathedral

13th January 2023

Cathedral Treasure, Finalist Number 9.

Tempus fugit: time flies at Wells Cathedral, Astronomical Clock (c, 1390)


There are 10 finalists in our Cathedral Treasure competition. You can vote for your favourite and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a copy of Janet Gough’s brilliant Deans’ Choice: Cathedral Treasures of England and Wales.

Wells Cathedral, itself around eight hundred and fifty years old, is the second major church to stand on this site. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘new cathedral’ to make this point, and the same is true of some of the cathedral’s treasures: the ‘new’ clock, for example, dates from about 1390, having replaced one that pre-dated it by at least a hundred years.

On this astronomical 24-hour dial, midday is at the top and mid- night at the bottom. The hour hand is a golden representation of the sun and the whole face is a representation of the medieval universe. The sun moves against a background of fixed stars and Earth is right in the middle of the clock face. Beyond the hour markers, at each of the four corners, an angel holds a face that is blowing towards the Earth. These are the four winds, blowing from the four corners (or compass points) of the world.

The minute hand, a small star inside the orbit of the sun, was added in the early eighteenth century. At the centre there is a scale of 30 divisions recording the moon’s age, accurate to one day in every 33 months.

Above the clock face, knights have a jousting match every quarter. If you come to see the clock, watch for the one who gets knocked off his horse every time he comes around. He has never got any better at jousting in over six hundred years. Above and to the right of the clock face you can also see Jack Blandiver (120 cm tall): he chimes the quarters with his heels and strikes the bell in front of him for the hours.

Astronomical Clock - Wells Cathedral

The medieval mechanism is still in working order but is now in the Science Museum. The Victorians installed the current mechanism, which operates not only the astronomical dial, but also the late fifteenth-century dial on the outside face of the north transept. This was converted to a 12-hour scale in 1836.


Vote for your favourite here.

Source : Deans’ Choice: Cathedral Treasures of England and Wales, Janet Gough.

Take at look at all the finalists and vote for your favourite here or tap / click the image below.

Cathedral Treasures - Finalists