Mass dials can be puzzling things, as they are, curiously, often found inside churches as well as outside, and sometimes there are multiple dials placed together.

Mass dials, sometimes known as scratch dials, have long been the subject of academic and antiquarian study, being amongst the first informal church inscriptions to be systematically recorded. 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.

Dials are usually found on the south side of the church, and often on or near the porch. Those found elsewhere on the church, such as the north side or inside, where they could not have functioned, are usually explained as having been moved from their original position. While this is doubtless true for some dials, there are now so many being found in odd locations that this explanation is being questioned. The possibility is being considered that some things that look like dials may have had another meaning or function. The presence of multiple dials, sometimes placed close together, on some churches is also puzzling if they are simply time-keepers.

mass dials