A Sundial Slide Show
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The Kirkdale Sundial

The sundial is embedded in the wall of Saint Gregory's church, Kirkdale, North Yorkshire. It is located over what is now the main door to the church, under the porch roof that protects the entrance. The sundial's Old English inscription is a dedication which states that the church was completely rebuilt in the middle of the 11th century at the initiative of a man named "Orm, son of Gamal." Both personal names are Scandinavian in origin, as are two other personal names that appear in the inscription, "Hawarth" and "Brand." Considerable parts of Orm's reconstruction remain in the current building, which, however, has been substantially altered over succeeding centuries. There remain three large stone crosses built into the church walls, two in the outside south wall and one in the west. These crosses were originally gravestones, apparently taken from the churchyard and used in the 11th century reconstruction work. They are known to be of Anglo-Scandinavian design, and their presence indicates that the earlier church was used by settlers of Scandinavian descent.

The main text of the sundial reads: +ORM GAMAL SVNA BOHTE SCS GREGORIVS MINSTER THONNE HIT WES AEL TOBROCAN & TOFALAN & HE HIT LET MACAN NEWAN FROM GRVNDE XPE & SCS GREGORIVS IN EADWARD DAGVM CNG &N TOSTI DAGVM EORL+; that is, "Orm Gamal's son bought St. Gregory's minster when it was all broken down and ruined, and he had it built anew from the ground for Christ and St. Gregory in the days of King Edward and of Earl Tostig." There are also two other texts. The first is around the dial itself: +THIS IS DAEGES SOLMERCA + AET ILCVM TIDE+; that is, "This is the day's sun-marker at every time." The second is the makers' formula: +& HAWARTH ME WROHTE & BRAND PRS; that is, "Hawarth made me and Brand, priests." The inscription allows us to date the church to the period between 1055 and 1065, because Tosti, who was the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex and the brother of the Harold who opposed William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings, held the Earldom of Northumbria during that period.

The language of the sundial is late Old English and it shows extensive leveling of the expected sort: First, unstressed vowels are weakened. Thus, we find suna for classical Old English sunu, tobrocan for classical Old English tobrocen, and tofalan for classical Old English tofeallen. Second, the distinctive second weak conjugation ending of the infinitive collapses with the ending of the first weak conjugation, so that we find macan for classical Old English macian. Third, various nominal inflexional endings are lost. Thus, we find no genitive case endings in the phrases Gamal svna, Eadward...cng, Tosti...eorl. The expected classical Old English forms would have been Gamales sunu, Eadwardes ... cyninges, and Tostiges ... eorles, respectively. Finally, there is the use of the general (i.e., masculine, neuter and plural) dative case ending -um in place of the specifically feminine -e in the phrase "aet ilcum tide." Since tid is feminine in gender in classical Old English, this usage reflects either a shift in gender or a leveling of case endings. Whether these levelings are due to Scandinavian influence is much debated. In our opinion, the extent of leveling in the Northern Old English after 850 is certainly suggestive of the simplifications that arise in the course of second language acquisition by adults. In this case, it would have been imperfections in the English of the Scandinavian settlers that were transmitted to subsequent generations. Such substratum effects are extremely common in the histories of the world's languages.

Three features of the inscription have been the focus of attention for scholars interested in Scandinavian influence on the language and culture of northern England. The first is the prevalence of Scandinavian names, as discussed above. These names have been Anglicized in the loss of the nominative masculine case ending -r. The second is the use of the patronymic formula Gamal svna, which is common in Scandinavia and rare, though not unattested, in Old English outside of Scandinavian influenced regions. The third is the appearance of the apparently Scandinavian compound solmerca for "sundial." This word does not appear elsewhere in Old English and seems cognate with the Old Norse solmerki, "sign of the zodiac." The first element of the compound is almost certainly Norse, since it is the common Norse word for "sun" and is rare in Old English. The second element, however, may be native English. Each of these features, by itself, does not prove a powerful influence of Old Norse on Old English. The features are, however, consistent with such influence, and together they point to quite intimate contact.


Richard Fletcher. 1990. St. Gregory's Minster Kirkdale. Kirkdale: The Joint Church Council.

James Lang. 1991. The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture: York and Eastern Yorkshire. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

R. I. Page. 1971. "How long did the Scandinavian language survive in England? The epigraphical evidence." In Peter Clemoes and Kathleen Hughes, eds. England before the Conquest: Studies in primary sources presented to Dorothy Whitelock. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. pp. 165-181.


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Photos this page © A. Kroch 1998.