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The Sundials of the Camino of Santiago

The Camino FrancÚs is the main section of the Camino de Santiago, and runs from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port in south-western France near Biarritz to Santiago in northwest Spain. It has four main feeder routes form Paris, Vezelay, Le Puy and Nimes. There are also a number of other pilgrimiage routes in Spain converging on Santiago. This page is concerned solely with the sundials on or near the Camino FrancÚs. If you want more information about the Camino, we recommend which has over 800 pictures of it, and the Confraternity of St. James which is the British society devoted to helping people doing this interesting pilgrimage route.

It is never possible to be certain that we have included all the sundials there are; if you come across any others, please send us an email, if possible with a picture. with the main places with sundials in this talk marked in red

These are the two towers of the cathedral in Pamplona, with a clock on the left-hand tower and a sundial on the right-hand tower. You will see that the gnomon (which casts the shadow, is not centred, but substantially slewed to the right. You will see that the gnomon (which casts the shadow, is not centred, but substantially slewed to the right. This indicates that the face of the tower is facing west pf south, and therefore that the sun will only shine onto the dial from 11 o'clock in the morning onwards. All vertical sundials cast the shadow vertically downwards at noon, when the sun is due south. A dial facing west of south, like this one, has to have the gnomon slewed to the east, and this in turn means that the morning hours will be much more widely spaced out than the afternoon hours. If you come across any other vertical sundial, you can use this to tell which way it is facing.

This sundial is over a baker's shop in the calle San Nicolas in Pamplona, just behind the church and, of course, the large sundial on the right hand tower of your lovely Cathedral There is also an interesting modern sundial in the BartolomÚ de Carranza suburb in south-west Pamplona ; you can see the large gnomon which casts the shadow here, and paving squares like these indicates the hours.

This sundial is on the south-east face of the tower of the church of San Francisco Javier which was built in 1952. It too has a clock and a sundial. You will see from the detail photograph that the sundial gives a time of around 7.15 whereas the clock is indicating 8.35. This illustrates a major difficulty for sundials in Spain, which keeps Central European Time, even though most of Spain is west of the Greenwich meridian. This means that there is always a difference of at least one hour between sundials and clocks in Spain, and in summer time, a difference of more than 2 hours. This sundial should have a difference of around 2 hours and 15 minutes, since Pamplona is nearly 4 degrees West of Greenwich, but it does not appear to have been laid out quite correctly.

This is an ancient sundial on the church at Torres del Rio. You will notice that it is angled out from the wall. This is because sundials are much easier to construct if they are pointing exactly to due south.

And a little further along the road is the sundial on the church of Santa Maria in Viana . This is a close-u p of the sundial, which shows that it is now in very poor condition

Logro˝o, the capital of La Rioja, does not appear to have any sundials, though there is a sculpture on a roundabout which looks as if it ought to be a sundial, but it is just a sculpture. (You can tell from a distance that it is not a sundial because the gnomon would be around 44 degrees to the horizontal, which is the same as the latitude for Logro˝o; this is a much steeper angle, so it cannot be a sundial

About 40 km. to the south of the Camino is the monastery of Yuso, which has a very old library. The Yuso monastery is the cradle of both the Spanish and the Basque languages - the earliest written words in both languages are marginal notes in Latin manuscripts in this library. The Yuso monastery also has a sundial in the courtyard. This sundial is also angled out from the wall to ensure the sundial is pointing due south.

Halfway between Yuso and the camino is the nunnery at Cañas; this is a very interesting building with a good museum and some ancient tombs including this one of the first abbess. The nunnery also has a sundial in the courtyard.

Between Cañas and Yuso is a small village with a sundial high up on the wall at a cross-roads; this too is in poor condition. Back on the Camino, the little church at Azofre has one of the best preserved sundials on the whole Camino.
The cathedral at Leon has two interesting sundials. The left-hand picture shows the multiple dial at the south-east corner of the cathedral; the stone is angled from the wall, so that the central dial points exactly south, and has the usual angled gnomon. To the left hand side, there is a west facing dial, which has only part of its gnomon. And there is a third sundial to the right (31). This one faces due East, and again has part of its gnomon missing. There is another sundial further along this wall of Leon cathedral (32). This one is in quite good condition, and it is not angled out from the wall, so you will see that the gnomon is not vertical on the centre line, but is displaced to the left so that it will still tell the correct time by the sun.

There is then a long section of the Camino, with apparently no sundials at all. In Santiago de Compostela, there are at least eight sundials, and six of them are very easy to see. These pictures show the three sundials in the cloister of the cathedral, which is accessible through the museum. The fourth picture is the east face of the rather worn sundial, also from 1601, which stands on a stone wall to the left of the Hostal dos Reyes Catolicos in Obradoiro Square. There are two other sundials on the south and west faces of this large block of stone, but these two are much more worn.

Many people travelling to or from the Camino pass through San Sebastian, which has a striking modern sundial in an eastern suburb

And, in Biarritz just over the border in France, there are two human gnomon or analemmatic sundials in marvellous locations overlooking the great sweep of the bay with its Atlantic waves. These sundials are especially popular with children; you stand on a spot marked for the month of the year, and your shadow indicates the approximate time.
For a full overview of Sundials on the Internet click here
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        first posted July 1997         last revision
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