Mass dials, also known as scratch dials, have long been the subject of academic and antiquarian study, being amongst the very first informal church inscriptions to be systematically record. Indeed, it is a rarity to open a county archaeological journal from the 1920s or 1930s that does not contain some reference to them, and over 6000 have so far been documented.
The traditional interpretation is that these simple sundials were used by either the parish priest, congregation or bell ringers to calculate the correct time for services. Most usually located on the south side of the church they take many forms and come in all shapes and sizes. If found elsewhere on the church then the traditional interpretation is that the stone into which they were carved has been moved or recycled.
However, these traditional interpretations are now seen as being open to question. The number of these dials being found on the north side of churches, where they simply wouldn’t work, is notable -
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