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Time to confuse the devil

I had read about a tradition in Malta, whereby most churches bear two clocks, usually one on each of their two spires. The clock on the right tells the time to help the parishioners, but the one on the left is deliberately wrong, working hard to confuse the devil and ensure he cannot turn up and disrupt the church services.

St Paul’s Cathedral, Mdina, Malta, March 2019

St Paul’s Church, Munxar, Gozo, March 2019

St Margaret’s Church, Sannat, Gozo, March 2019

Theses churches certainly seem to support that tradition, with the right hand clock telling the time (other way around in Munxar, mind you). And the left hand face certainly adds confusion, but of all the ones I found none actually told the time! They usually tell the date instead: variations on day of week, number of month and name of month.

One of the co-cathedrals, St John’s in Valletta, actually has three clock faces, all on one side of the building, and displays a clear example of the information these faces often provide. The facade of St John’s was renovated between 2014 and 2017, with the clocks and bells forming a large part of that work.

St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, March 2019

The larger face at the top clearly tells the time, whilst the one on the left tells the day of the month, and the right hand face tells the name of the day of the week.

It was reported on in detail in the cathedral’s annual report for 2016-2017: “a Latin inscription bears the name of its clock maker, Clerici invenit. Clerici, a Maltese clock-maker, connected the clock mechanisms on three bells, one large and two smaller. The three bells have a high relief coat-of-arms of the Grand Master Wignacourt and the large bell has the date 1619, probably the date when it was cast and possibly that of the construction of the clock.”

I am not saying for definite that reports of the tradition are completely wrong, but there are certainly plenty of examples that the creation of confusion for the devil is not as straightforward as just showing him the wrong time.


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Copyright Debbie Smyth, 7 September 2019

Posted as part of Photo a Week

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