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A wonder of 1800’s engineering: the historic Strasbourg Astronomical Clock

David Goran

Located in the Strasbourg Cathedral, France, the historic Strasbourg astronomical clock is a Renaissance masterpiece assembled by various artists, mathematicians, and technicians, and it is considered as one of the largest in the world.

The clock is actually the third of its kind to stand in the spot.

Originally built in the 14th Century and renovated a couple of times  Photo Credit

Originally built in the 14th Century and renovated a couple of times Photo Credit

 

One of the largest in the world (60 feet tall)  Photo Credit

One of the largest in the world (60 feet tall) Photo Credit

 

The original clock was built in the 14th century (between 1352–1354) by an unknown tinker. It was known as the “Three Kings clock” and was equipped with various mechanical details that were very rare in that time.

The clock had several automata, including a gilded rooster, which is considered the oldest preserved automaton in the world and still preserved in a local museum. It also featured three Biblical kings, hence the name, who bowed before a figure of The Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus in her arms.

 

When this clock stopped working in the 16th century, the entire structure was dismantled and the second clock was mounted on the opposite wall of the south transept. It was designed by the mathematician Christian Herlin and was notable for its complexity as an astronomical device with a rich decoration. It stopped working around 1788 and stood still for fifty years.

The original clock  Photo Credit

The original clock Photo Credit

 

The mechanical rooster used for the original clock  Photo Credit

The mechanical rooster used for the original clock Photo Credit

 

An analogic computer  Photo Credit

An analogic computer Photo Credit

 

Considered a mathematical marvel  Photo Credit

Considered a mathematical marvel Photo Credit

 

It is set up in its 17th century case decorated by Tobias Stimmer  Photo Credit

It is set up in its 17th century case decorated by Tobias Stimmer Photo Credit

A wonder of 1800’s engineering   Photo Credit

A wonder of 1800’s engineering Photo Credit

 

The current mechanism dates from 1842   Photo Credit

The current mechanism dates from 1842 Photo Credit

 

The orrery   Photo Credit

The orrery Photo Credit

 

 

Globe of the phases of the moon   Photo Credit

Globe of the phases of the moon Photo Credit

The actual clock was built between 1838 and 1843, by the famous French engineer and inventor, Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué, who produced numerous clocks for church towers. Besides the automata, the current clock shares many of the features of its two predecessors such as a perpetual calendar (including a Gregorian computus designed by Schwilgué), an orrery (planetary dial), a rotating display of the real position of the Sun and the Moon, and solar and lunar eclipses.

It also has a mechanism that shows the sign of the zodiac, equinoxes, leap years, and much more astronomical data which makes it a rather complex calculating machine.

Ages of life and the Apostles  Photo Credit

Ages of life and the Apostles Photo Credit

 

A figure of Christ  Photo Credit

A figure of Christ Photo Credit

 

At 12:30 p.m., the clock swings into action  Photo Credit

At 12:30 p.m., the clock swings into action Photo Credit

The main attraction of the clock is its animated figures which perform a delightful show every day. At 12:30, the automatons start their show and small figures of the twelve Apostles parade before Christ, accompanied by the beating of wings and the sound of a large cock crowing.

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Just below that, other figures, which represent the different stages of life (a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man), parade past a figure of death. In front of the clock is the huge Pillar of Angels which represents the Last Judgment.