14 November 2023

Wendy Taylor’s
‘Equatorial Sundial’
was almost lost to
time and to Bletchley

‘Equatorial Sundial’ by Wendy Taylor on Chandos Square in Bletchley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

‘Equatorial Sundial’ is a striking and eye-catching sculpture by Wendy Taylor on Chandos Square in Bletchley. Today, it is a familiar sight to commuters and visitors as they walk from the railway station into the centre of Bletchley. But this is not its original location, and there was a time when it was lost to Milton Keynes. It took tough negotiations to bring this work of art back to Bletchley.

Wendy Taylor was commissioned by Telephone Rentals PLC to create ‘Equatorial Sundial’ for the Cable & Wireless Offices in Water Eaton Road, Bletchley, in 1982. This a large stainless steel equatorial dial, 3650 mm high. There are no numerals, but half and quarter hour marks for 6 am, noon and 6 pm.

The distinguishing characteristic of an equatorial dial (also called the equinoctial dial) is the planar surface that receives the shadow, which is exactly perpendicular to the gnomon’s style. This plane is called equatorial, because it is parallel to the equator of the Earth and of the celestial sphere.

If the gnomon is fixed and aligned with the Earth's rotational axis, the sun’s apparent rotation about the Earth casts a uniformly rotating sheet of shadow from the gnomon; this produces a uniformly rotating line of shadow on the equatorial plane. As the Earth rotates 360 degrees in 24 hours, the hour-lines on an equatorial dial are all spaced 15 degrees apart (360/24).

Wendy Taylor designed the ‘Equatorial Sundial’ for the Cable & Wireless Offices in Water Eaton Road, Bletchley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The sculptor and artist Wendy Taylor designed the ‘Equatorial Sundial’ in Bletchley and a second, better-known sundial in London, the ‘Timepiece’. Similar ideas inspired her ‘Compass Bowl’ in Basildon and her ‘Opus’ in Milton Keynes.

Wendy Taylor specialises in permanent, site-specific commissions. She is known for her sculptures in the public realm, especially in London, and she says she is one of the first artists of her generation to take art out of the galleries and onto the streets.

Her work typically consists of large sculptures that appear the be carefully balanced. Her abstract sculptures explore themes of equilibrium, materiality and fabrication. She views her artworks as communicative devices.

Wendy Taylor was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in 1945, and was an award winning student at Saint Martin’s School of Art (1961-1966). Her first solo show was in 1966 at Axiom Gallery, and she later exhibited in many group shows and solo at Angela Flowers Gallery, the Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin, and the Hayward Annual at Hayward Gallery. She won a gold medal in the Listowel Graphics Exhibition in Co Kerry 1977.

She has taught at Ealing School of Art (1967-1975) and the Royal College of Art (1972-1973), and she was a design consultant for the Commission for New Towns (1986-1988).

Three of her works are Grade II listed structures: her ‘Virginia Quay Settlers Monument’, her ‘Timepiece’ in Saint Katharine Docks, by Tower Bridge in London, and her ‘Octo’ sculpture and reflecting pool in Milton Keynes.

The chair of the Milton Keynes Public Arts Trust, lan Michie, was involved in long and intense negotiations in 2016 to secure the return of Wendy Taylor’s ‘Equatorial Sundial’ to Milton Keynes.

Vodafone executives had uprooted the sculpture and moved it from Bletchley to the Telegraph Museum in Porthcurno, Cornwall. The negotiations involved executives from many organisations and the MP for South Milton Keynes, lan Stewart.

Finally, the sculpture was returned to Milton Keynes, and after refurbishment it was installed in its present prominent position in Chandos Square in Bletchley. There commuters see it every day as they walk between the town centre and the railway station.

Wendy Taylor has two other public sculptures in Milton Keynes. ‘Octo’ (1979-1980) on Silbury Boulevard is a stainless steel sculpture mounted on a reflecting pool. ‘Octo’ is an early example of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s public art programme. It is a ‘continuous strip of stainless steel, 12 ft high, forms a sinuous foil to the Miesian purism of Stuart Mosscrop’s town office buildings.’

‘Essence’ (1982) is on Avebury Boulevard. The artist describes this work in bronze as being ‘surrounded by a wide selection of shrubs which give a secret air to the area, providing a complete contrast to the bold outlines of Milton Keynes’ avenues. The soft enfolding lines of the sculpture are a response to the intimacy of the enclosed environment.’

Long and intense negotiations secured the return of Wendy Taylor’s ‘Equatorial Sundial’ to Bletchley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (10) 14 November 2023

The Basilica of San Domenico, seen from the cloisters, is one of the major churches in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. This week began with the Third Sunday before Advent and Remembrance Sunday (12 November 2023).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (14 November) remembers the life and work of Samuel Seabury (1796), the first Anglican Bishop in North America.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout the rest of this week, I am resuming my theme of Italian cathedrals and churches, and my reflections this morning are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church in Bologna;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The shrine of Saint Dominic in Saint Dominic’s chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna:

Bologna has a rich collection of churches and basilicas, and one of the major churches in the city is the Basilica of San Domenico, which dates back to the arrival of Saint Dominic over 800 years ago in the year 1218.

The basilica is visited regularly by pilgrims and tourists who come to visit the church because Saint Dominic is buried inside in the exquisite shrine of the Arca di San Domenico..

The shrine is the work of Nicola Pisano and his workshop and of Arnolfo di Cambio, and there are later additions by Niccolò dell’Arca and the young Michelangelo.

When Saint Dominic, Dominic Guzman, first arrived in Bologna in January 1218, he was impressed by the vitality of the city and recognised the importance of the university city.

The first house for Dominicans was established at the Mascarella church by Reginald of Orleans. But this house soon became too small for the growing number of friars, and in 1219 the brothers of Dominic’s Order of Preachers moved to the small church of San Nicolò of the Vineyards on the outskirts of Bologna.

Saint Dominic also moved to this church and the first two General Chapters of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans were held there in 1220 and 1221. Saint Dominic died in that church on 6 August 1221, and was buried behind the altar of San Nicolò.

Between 1219 and 1243, the Dominicans bought all the plots of land surrounding the church. After the death of Saint Dominic, the church of San Nicolò was expanded and a new monastic complex was built between 1228 and 1240.

The church was then extended and grew into the Basilica of Saint Dominic, which in time become the prototype of many other Dominican churches throughout the world.

The basilica was divided in two parts divided by a ramp: the front part, or ‘internal church,’ was the church of the brothers, and the church for the faithful, or the ‘external church.’ The church was consecrated by Pope Innocent IV in 1251.

The remains of Saint Dominic were moved in 1233 from a place behind the altar to a simple marble sarcophagus. But most of the pilgrims could not see the new shrine, which was hidden by many people standing in front of it.

The need for a new shrine was identified, and in 1267 the remains of Saint Dominic were moved from the simple sarcophagus into a new shrine, decorated with episodes from the life of the saint by Nicola Pisano.

Saint Dominic’s chapel is the main chapel of the church. It has a square plan and a semi-circular apse, where the remains of the saint rest in the splendid Arca di San Domenico under the cupola which contains three sculptures by Michelangelo: Angel, Saint Proclus and Saint Petronius.

The chapel was built by the Bolognese architect Floriano Ambrosini, replacing the old gothic chapel from 1413, to match the splendour of the other existing chapels. It was decorated between 1614 and 1616 by important painters of the Bolognese school.

In the course of the next centuries, the church was enlarged, modified and rebuilt. New side chapels were built, a bell tower was added, the dividing wall between the two churches was demolished, and the choir was moved behind the altar. Then, in 1728-1732, the interior of the church was completely rebuilt in the Baroque style by the architect Carlo Francesco Dotti (1678-1759) under the patronage of Pope Benedict XIII, who was a Dominican.

The imposing Crucifixion in the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel is the masterpiece by Giunta Pisano, ca 1250) It was strongly influenced by the Byzantine style and represents one of the best examples of 13th-century Italian painting.

Mozart played on the organ in the Rosary Chapel in 1769, while he was studying with Giovanni Battista Martini in Bologna.

The square in front of the church, now paved with pebbles, was also the original cemetery. In the middle of the square, a bronze statue of Saint Dominic (1627) stands on the top of a brickwork column.

Close-by are two unique Byzantine-Venetian-style tombs of the celebrated jurists of Rolandino de’ Passeggeri and Egidio Foscarari.

The relics of Saint Dominic in the richly-decorated shrine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 17: 7-10 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’

Inside the Basilica of Saint Dominic (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 14 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), draws on ‘A Prayer for Remembrance Sunday and International Day of Tolerance’. This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (14 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, we pray for tolerance of differences of every kind and an awareness of the good in all.

‘Gloria di San Domenico’, a fresco on the cupola of Saint Dominic’s Chapel, was painted by Guido Reni in 1613-1615 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Additional Collect:

God, our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘The Crucifixion’ by Giunta Pisano, ca 1250, in the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The cloisters at the Basilica di San Domenico in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)