Portable Sundial – Canterbury Cathedral

12th January 2023

Cathedral Treasure, Finalist Number 1

Canterbury Cathedral’s Portable Sundial (10th Century)

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

Vote for your favourite here.

Canterbury Cathedral’s pocket-sized sundial, measuring just over 6 cm in length, was found during excavations in the Great Cloister in 1938. It is made up of a tablet of silver with a cap and chain of gold, and a separate gold pin. The cap is decorated with interlacing; its end is formed as the head of a beast and the chain and pin also are finished with beasts’ heads. Two of the heads still have tiny gems for eyes. Abbreviated names of the months in Latin are inscribed in pairs in three lines on both broad faces of the tablet. Around the sides are inscribed words in Latin that translate as ‘Health to the maker, peace to the owner’.


The sundial was probably made in the tenth century and it is an intricate piece of design. The pin, known as a ‘gnomon’, was placed in the hole for the relevant month. When the sundial was suspended from the chain, it used the altitude of the sun to calculate three separate times of the day. The calculations were approximate; they may have been used to indicate times for prayer as part of the divine office.


This sundial is a unique survival from the Anglo-Saxon world. Its maker and original owner are unknown, but it has a traditional, albeit unsubstantiated, association with St Dunstan (d.988), the Archbishop of Canterbury whose reforms led to the establishment of a community of Benedictine monks at the cathedral. A scholar and statesman, he is also thought to have been a skilled musician, scribe and metalworker. He is the patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths.

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