York Minster Astronomical Clock
This memorial to World War II's fallen airmen shows us the movements of the stars that once guided them.
Hidden in the North Transept of York Minster is a grand clock depicting the motion of the Sun and Stars around a map of the city of York at the center, with the Minster highlighted in gold leaf. As the Minster is so large and elaborate, it would be quite easy for someone to visit the cathedral without ever noticing the clock.
The clock was designed and created by Dr. R. d’E. Atkinson of the Royal Greenwich Observatory to commemorate the roughly 18,000 airmen from Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland who fought for the Royal Air Force during World War II, as well as many other soldiers from armies around the world who fought alongside them.
Installed in 1955 in the northern transept of the Minster next to the famous Five Sisters window, the clock was meant to follow the tradition of medieval European cathedrals, as those churches often housed such clocks.
The celestial information the clock depicts was instrumental to navigators in the Second World War, and as such, this clock is a fitting tribute to them. The zodiac side depicts the motion of the Sun around the Earth and gives the time for sunrise and sunset in York. It also shows the Sun’s precise location in the sky at any given moment, as well as which sign of the zodiac the Sun is passing through. The Astral side of the clock focuses on the stars, showing the movements of stars that dance across the northern hemisphere’s nighttime sky. This side, too, is adjusted to York’s coordinates.
Know Before You Go
The York Minster is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 12:45 to 3 p.m. on Sundays. An adult ticket to just the Minster (and not the tower) costs £11 (though it's £10 if you buy it online in advance).
From the entrance, the clock is located to the back of the Nave, on the left-hand side. It is in a corner of the North Transept, just before the entrance to the Chapter House.
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