The Astronomical Clock was built by Auguste-Lucien Vérité between 1865 and 1868 on the commission of the Bishop of Beauvais, Joseph-Armand Gignoux. It was installed in the cathedral starting from 1876. The clock contains nearly 90,000 components and features 50 miniature figurines. In its lower section, a central motor and 16 auxiliary motors power the clock’s 52 dials (a 53rd dial is located at the back of the clock for adjustment purposes), all while ensuring the functioning of the chimes. The various facades display a Romanesque-Byzantine style that skillfully combines columns, trilobed arches, tympanums, and capitals.
Astronomical Clock Description
The Heavenly City
The top of the piece of furniture represents the celestial city, where the majority of the Last Judgment scene takes place, complete with its automatons. Above, beyond the archangel Saint Michel, who holds a scale to weigh souls, is Christ in majesty, with the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph at his feet, interceding for humanity.
The scene, which repeats every hour, is accompanied by an audio-visual presentation.
The earthly city
The lower part represents the earthly realm, the earthly city. At the windows, you can see a representation of all the peoples of the world, as well as important figures such as a cardinal who could be Cardinal Matthieu, Monseigneur Gignoux, the patron of the clock, Reverend Father Piérart, and Auguste-Lucien Vérité. During the Last Judgment scene, all the figures are replaced by flames.
In front of the earthly city and below the angel St. Michael stands the rooster, which crows three times on the hour, to recall the denial of Saint Peter during the Passion of Jesus. It symbolizes vigilance.
The central dial
The central dial depicts Christ in glory surrounded by the twelve apostles in medallions, and he carries the ‘credo,’ the Christian act of faith. Christ, with his cruciferous nimbus, is encircled by a green band bearing Jesus’s words encouraging vigilance: ‘Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or in the morning.’ The central dial features the 24 hours of a day, with midnight at the top and noon at the bottom.
The central bay
The astronomical clock of Beauvais Cathedral has 52 dials, with most of them located on the three bays beneath the main dial. The central bay consists of 12 dials, with the most central one being the ‘ecclesiastical computation,’ which provides the calculations for determining the date of Easter. Surrounding it, small dials provide various information such as seasons, the declination and altitude of the sun, the length of day and night, and more.
The left bay
The left bay features a striking deep blue dial at the top, displaying the sunrise and sunset. The horizon lines shift each day between the winter solstice at the top and the summer solstice at the bottom. When the small sun carried by a hand is above the horizon lines, it is daytime. If it is below, it is nighttime.
Below, a cluster of 9 dials indicates the time in 9 cities west of Beauvais: at the center, Paris, followed by Tahiti, London, Madrid, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Cayenne, New York, and Mexico.
The bottom dial, complementing the intense blue of the top one, displays movable feasts, all determined in relation to the date of Easter.
The right bay
The right bay is perfectly symmetrical to the left one. The top dial displays the phases of the moon at the meridian of Beauvais.
Below, a cluster of 9 dials indicates the time in 9 cities east of Beauvais: at the center, Rome, followed by Auckland, Vienna, Constantinople, St. Petersburg, Jerusalem, Calcutta, Beijing, and Sydney.
The bottom dial presents the age of the world (since Creation), the year’s vintage, whether it is a leap year or not, and the century’s vintage. Around the dial, there is a perpetual Gregorian calendar.
The side bays
The clock also features two side bays. Only the one on the left side is visible to the public. The top dial indicates the date of the last solar eclipse in Beauvais. Below that, an animated dial shows the tides at Mont Saint-Michel. Further down, a celestial planisphere displays the position of the stars above Beauvais.
The right bay is also perfectly symmetrical. The top dial indicates the position of the 6 known planets around the sun. In the middle, a dial shows the tides at Mont Orgueil Castle. Below, a dial displays the position of the stars at the nadir of Beauvais, which is at the antipode.
To learn more, you have two options! Visit Beauvais, where an audio-visual presentation will take you on a journey through time and the intricacies of this marvel.
You can also purchase a splendid book titled ‘L’Heure de Vérité’ from Monelle Hayot Editions at the kiosk located within the cathedral.