The Mather Sundial was given to the University in 1907 by Sir William Mather, a member of the British Parliament. Carved in England from stone quarried on the Isle of Portland, it is a copy of one erected in 1579 by Charles Turnbull in Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Mather gave the sundial to Princeton as a symbol of the connections between the United States and England and their institutions of higher learning.
The sundial takes the form of a cylindrical shaft, surmounted by a square stone and carved with four coats of arms. The column is topped with an astronomical model known as an armillary sphere and surmounted by a pelican. The pelican, the symbol of Corpus Christi College, was a medieval symbol for Christ’s sacrifice, for it was believed that the pelican pierced her skin to feed her chicks with her own blood.
The inscriptions on the highest base include selections of poetry and information about the donation of the sundial, although most of this has worn away. For much of the past century, sitting on the steps at the base of the sundial was a privilege reserved for members of the senior class. Now, all students are welcome to sit on the steps, and on warm days the sundial is often the site of outdoor class discussions.
Read More —The four shields (PP637)
The sundial is carved with four coats of arms. On the south face of the prism is the coat of arms of Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester and the founder of the College, his motto “EST DEO GRATIA,” “Thanks be to God,” and 1581, probably the year in which the sundial in Oxford was completed. The shield is a combination of Fox’s family heraldry, a sword crossed with two keys, and the arms of the See of Winchester, a pelican. On the 1579 dial the sculptor made a mistake and reversed the position of the keys and sword; this mistake was reproduced here. On the west face of the sundial is the coat of arms of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter and a patron of the College. The northern coat of arms is that of Oxford University; on the east are those of the House of Tudor, although this side is now almost completely illegible.
Special Feature (PP637)
Turnbull Sundial (1551) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Archival photographs from the 1920s and a recent photo showing acid rain.