I translated this particular version of the tale from Récits historiques et légendaires d’Alsace, collected by Robert Wolf. 1922.
For a long time the Strasbourg Cathedral clock remained unfinished. The master who had invented it had died without finding anyone capable of finishing his work.
At last a foreign master craftsman who promised he could finish the work arrived in Strasbourg. He completed the masterpiece, far surpassing all hope for it. One day, at noon, he presented the moving clock to the astonished gathering of people. The bells tolled and Death indicated the hours. The apostles passed before the Savior, bowing before him. The two lions that held the city’s coat of arms began to roar. It was a festive and joyful day for all the city.1
With the work completed, the young artist desired to take his leave, but the council of the city’s municipal officers did not consent. They feared the artist would create a similar masterpiece in another city, and they desired to be the only ones to possess such a marvel. Therefore, they had the artist’s eyes blotted out.
But soon the city was punished for this cruelty. The blind artist became weaker and sicker from day to day, and the clock itself no longer worked with precision. When the master died, it stopped entirely. (1) Later, another artist, Schwilgué, succeeded in restarting the clock in 1842.
(1) In truth, the clock built under the direction of Dasypodius, a strasbourgeois mathematician, and that of the brothers Isaac and Josias Habrecht of Schaffhouse, stopped working in 1789.2
1. If you would like to see the astronomical clock’s various parts and figures, this page has a great collection of photos of the current version of the clock. ↩
2. The famous astronomical clock of the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral has been built several times throughout history. The first clock was built of wood in the 1350s. The second, started in 1547 by the mathematicians Chretien Herlin, Michel Heer, and Nicolas Briiker, was interrupted by the death of Herlin and not finished until 1574 by Dasypodius and the Habrecht brothers Isaac and Josias. While work on the clock was still in progress, Josias was called away by the officials of Cologne to build the clock of Kaiserswerth castle. He was also unable to return, due to the illness and subsequent blindness of his sister. Grandidier proposes that this is one of the keys to the creation of the legend surrounding the clock.
Once again the clock stopped working, this time in 1789 in the midst of the French Revolution, a time of great turmoil for the city. Although the young Schwilgué was but a boy of twelve at the time, he determined to be the one to bring the clock back to life. He grew up to make his dream come true, finishing a complete overhaul of the clock and its figures in 1842.
The Astronomical Clock of Strasbourg Cathedral was once counted as “one of the seven marvels of Germany.” Over the centuries, it has collected quite a number of legends, including the assertion that its creator was none other than Copernicus himself. Most of the legends surrounding it, however, deal with ablind mathematician. Either the mathematician becomes old and blind, thereby unable to express to others the true workings of the clock; the clock itself refuses to be touched by any other hand but its master’s; the city municipal council blinds him and the city is cursed by a clock that refuses to work for cruel masters; or else the blind mathematician takes revenge on those who destroyed his eyes by asking to visit his clock one last time, and, plunging his hand into its gears, withdraws a critical piece.↩
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