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23.5 Degrees

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Les TempsPliers

Translation: The Time Benders

By Stella Maris     March 08, 2008

Detail from "The Persistence of Memory".
© Salvadore Dali

You will have grasped by now that the 23.5 Degrees gang has a fairly fluid approach to the space-time continuum. But perhaps this is precisely why we find it intriguing that, over the centuries, a multitude of churches and cathedrals across Europe have been cunningly adapted to function as architectural time machines.

According to Professor JL Heilbron in his book The Sun in the Church, "Through much of the Scientific Revolution, between 1630 and 1750, Catholic Churches were the best solar observatories in the world. Constructed initially to solve the pressing problem of providing an unquestionable date for Easter, the instruments that made the churches' observatories also threw light on the disputed geometry of the solar system.

The functions of the church observatories changed with the centuries. As they increased in number, citizens and cities set their clocks by them; at the beginning of the age of iron and steam, railroad schedules were governed by the sun's movements traced out on cathedral floors."

So, it was inevitable that the timekeeping function of the Church would be wrested away when scientific progress, manifesting in the development of the railways in the 1800s, eventually forced the entire planet to adopt an artificially unified timetable.

Up until then each town had its own gnomon, or sundial, which would track the movement of the sun - usually housed in a church, whose priests would ritually ring out the hours for those who were within the boundary of the sound of its parish bells.

But because time was dictated by the slow rotation of the earth, every town had its own unique time zone, different even from the village next door. Increasingly speedier modes of travel between cities meant having to change one's pocket watch upon arrival. Finally the problem was resolved by agreeing for every town with a railway service to abandon its own gnomonic solar time, based on the organic movement of the Sun, and adopt an artificial time reference point.

Britain, where the inconsistencies of local mean time affected the swiftly developing railway services the most, was the first country to set the time throughout a region to one standard time - based on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), of course.

For example, on the Bristol to London railway service, which operated to a London timetable, the passengers in Bristol would show up for the scheduled 12 noon train to London, only to find that it had actually departed a full hour earlier because noon in Bristol, according to the movement of the sun from east to west, was actually an hour behind noon in London.

Therefore, the first railway to adopt London time was the Great Western Railway (who operated the Bristol-London service) in November 1840. Other railways inevitably followed suit, and by 1847 most railways used London (GMT) time.

On September 22, 1847 the Railway Clearing House, an industry standards body, recommended that Greenwich Mean Time be adopted at all stations as soon as the General Post Office permitted it.

By 1855 the vast majority of public clocks in Britain were set to GMT - although some, like the great clock on Tom Tower at Christ Church, Oxford, were fitted with two minute hands, one for local time and one for GMT! The legal system finally switched to GMT when the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act received the Royal Assent on August 2, 1880.

In 1878, Canadian Sir Sanford Fleming proposed the system of worldwide time zones that we use today. He recommended that the world be divided into twenty-four time zones, each spaced 15 degrees of longitude apart.

Since the earth rotates once every 24 hours and there are 360 degrees of longitude, each hour the earth rotates one-twenty-fourth of a circle or 15 degrees of longitude. Sir Fleming's time zones were heralded as a brilliant solution to a chaotic problem worldwide.

Subsequently, the concept of "Daylight Saving Time" - where the clocks "spring forward" in the spring and "fall back" in the autumn - was introduced in 1916 as a wartime measure, to maximize usage of the hours of natural daylight, and has been retained until the present for convenience.

If you live in the US, you'll be winding your clocks forward this weekend, although Britain doesn't change from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST) until the end of the month.

But, when you reset your clocks this year, spare a thought for the original sacerdotal initiates who understood how to unravel the mysteries of Time by observing the movement of the Sun through their cathedrals...

Newton Coordinate:- Daylight Saving Time Begins, US and Canada, March 9th.


Showing items 1 - 4 of 4
SlamShut 3/8/2008 9:15:00 AM
Oooh, wait, I think I understood this one! It's about clocks n'shit.
goatartist 3/8/2008 10:21:42 AM
hahaha, what the fuck? Very informative though. What grade did you get on this paper?
joeybaloney 3/8/2008 1:33:45 PM
This was eerily coherent . I'm a little scared.
DIIDDIID 3/8/2008 8:35:31 PM
Don't be scared until and unless the day comes that you go back to the first few columns and THEY start seeming coherent. Your life will never be the same....


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