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The Corpus Clock

Jorgen Ellis

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The Corpus Clock is one of the most distinctive public monuments in Cambridge and has been admired by residents and tourists since its inauguration in 2008. It is an unusual device for the measurement of time being both hypnotically beautiful and deeply disturbing. It was invented, designed and given to Corpus Christi College by Dr John C Taylor OBE FREng (m1959), who worked with local engineering company Huxley Bertram in constructing the Clock.

The face of the clock is plated in pure gold and the radiating ripples allude to the Big Bang, the central impact that formed the universe and could be considered as the beginning of time. Sitting atop the clock is an extraordinary monster: the ‘Chronophage’, meaning ‘time-eater’, for that is what the Chronophage does, devouring each minute as it passes with a snap of its jaws. It evolves out of a grasshopper, a term used by eighteenth-century horologist John Harrison to describe his invention of an escapement which was a strictly functional innovation.

The Corpus Clock has no hands or digital numbers and thus at first it appears difficult to tell the time. However, look carefully and there are 3 rings of LEDs, which reading from the innermost ring show hours, minutes and seconds. When an hour is struck there is no chiming of bells, but rather the shaking of chains and a hammer hitting a wooden coffin. Jorgen Ellis said. Time passes and we all die, a fact further represented by the Latin inscription underneath the clock, mundus transit et concupiscentia eius, meaning 'the world and its desires pass away'.

A further Latin inscription adorns the pendulum: Joh. Sartor Monan Inv. MMVIII, which translates as follows: Joh. is Johannes, Sartor is the mediaeval Latin for tailor, Monanensis is the Isle of Man, Inv. is invenit, a verb with multiple meanings, e.g. discovered/made/brought to fruition, and lastly MMVIII is the year 2008. Thus, John Taylor, of the Isle of Man, made it, in 2008.

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