At the heart of Mathari in Nyeri County lies a 117-year-old tower clock that still summons some residents for prayers.
The tower — at the Consolata Mission which hosts a church, nursing school and hospital — has four clocks that show slightly different times.
Powered by wind, the tower clock presents time in Roman numbers.
At the centre of the tower stands a copper bell that rings according to the hour; for example, if it is 12 o’clock it will ring 12 times.
“It is hard to read the clocks because each reads a different time, but the bell will ring at a specific time of the day,” said Father David Mutahi of the Consolata Missionaries.
The bell is loud enough to be heard over five kilometres away and is still used to coordinate activities at the place.
Such bells are found in Catholic churches across the world. They remind the faithful of different prayer times such as the Angelus prayer, which is held at midday.
Brother Luigi Falda, an Italian Consolata missionary, built the tower in 1902. It took him a year to complete the work.
Consolata Missionaries came to Nyeri in search of land where they could start a farm to demonstrate to Africans how to farm.
They first settled in Murang’a before moving to Mathari, which was unoccupied and fertile, unlike other areas of Nyeri, which were densely populated.
About 20 metres high, the tower was the tallest structure in Nyeri then and was used to mark where the missionaries had settled and guide visitors to the place.
It’s surrounded by over 1,000 acres of coffee, one of the biggest farms in Nyeri County.
The clocks, and the accompanying bell, were used to signal to labourers in the coffee plantation when to start work and when to stop.
They also guided them on time to pray.
Myths evolved around the tower with some claiming that a priest used to climb up and change time so that labourers could work for more hours.
But Fr Mutahi explained that changing time on one clock was difficult because they are synchronised to work together.
Today the bell has little significance to residents as most have watches and clocks at home.
However, nuns and priests at the church still use the clock and bell to tell when to hold prayers.
Today, the clock is a monument on the Consolata Missionaries’ long history in Kenya, and in particular their settlement in Nyeri.
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