Where were you on Feb. 22, 1966? A few people can say that they were in the Cathedral of St. Augustine placing a time capsule inside the main altar.
Brian Baker, whose company, Baker Liturgical Art is overseeing the renovation of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine said, “It was not a surprise to find a time capsule in the altar of sacrifice. It is a tradition to leave a time capsule in the main altar during a restoration.”
That time capsule – a cardboard box – was found yesterday (Wednesday, Jan. 7) as workers disassembled the marble altar in the main sanctuary of the church. Among the items found inside include newspapers from the day, a few pictures, a note from one of the painters and a two medallions of Pope Paul VI.
“Some money was also discovered,” said Father Thomas Willis, rector of the Cathedral. the “The small change amounted to about a dollar! But there were also eight Morgan silver dollars with dates ranging from 1882 to 1900,” he said.
“Based on a quick search of the internet those dollar coins could be worth a few thousand dollars – if they’re considered in mint condition,” Father Willis added
The two pictures included in the box were a general picture of St. Peter’s Square in Rome and the second, a similar picture of Msgr. John Burns,” Father Willis remarked. “He was the rector of the Cathedral during the 1960’s renovation. The writing on the back of each paper was his, too. I could tell by the looping style of his cursive handwriting. You can tell he was definitely taught by nuns!”
I don’t think I was aware of this practice of placing a time capsule in an altar. I was aware of using relics from a saint being being placed under an altar. So is this really a wide spread practice regarding restoration of altars. I couldn’t find any information in that direction as all links pointed to this one.
The current interior of the Cathedral is interesting and beautiful in parts and a nod to the Spanish discovery of St. Augustine in 1565. Which was of course named because that was the feast day they sighted the land. The murals on the wall created by German mural artist Hugo Ohlms that show a history of the diocese are also interesting, although I am not a fan of the interconnecting vines. I wonder if any other Cathedral in the United States has Conquistadors painted in them? One mural shows “Pedro Menendez de Aviles First Mass.” This one is cool since it shows the first Mass in the United States along with showing the Timucuan Indians. In recent years the story of a Thanksgiving episode before the Puritans arrived has become better known. So overall I like the interior even though the style is not my favorite. The pipes from the pipe organ prominently displayed in the sanctuary is a bit odd to me, but I have learned to just be thankful they still have a pipe organ at all. They have a side chapel where the Tabernacle resides and in this case it is quite proper to do this. There is a lot of foot traffic in the Cathedral from tourists exploring “America’s oldest city.” I’ve found it a good place to pray without the distraction of tourists and photo taking.
I admit to having negative reactions when I hear the word renovation regarding Catholic churches. So I of course looked up Baker Liturgical Art. It looks like they are actually doing a restoration and even adding a choir loft. This is quite promising. As I have quipped before “Unlike children, choirs should be heard and not seen.”
Now as to the time capsule they also found two papers which were editions of “The St. Augustine Record” and “The Wanderer.” I found it rather funny that there was a copy of the The Wanderer in the altar of the Cathedral. Although I have to admit that the cover of the issue found was filled with the usual joy and optimism of the few volumes I have seen. Still I liked that the banner had “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist” from Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (which is still part of their banner). The front page also included an article by Msgr. R. G. Bandas titled “Ecumenism – The Problem.” The Monsignor had apparently attended every session of the Second Vatican Council and was a Peritus. He was also apparently not a happy camper about the Council. After his death three years after this article a friend of his said “that in a very real sense Vatican II brought on the early death of Msgr. Bandas—a brilliant, holy priest who died of a broken heart over the Council.” You won’t be surprised that I found that tidbit in The Remnant. So no doubt there is an interesting story behind how this paper became part of the altar’s time capsule.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the copy of the The Wanderer made its way to the trash bin. Father Thomas Willis, rector of the Cathedral is rather known to me from his resistance to Summorum Pontificum as Director of Liturgy for the Diocese. When he was pastor of Most Holy Redeemer he oversaw rebuilding of the parish. I visited the parish afterwards and never returned. The altar was placed in the middle of a circle of pews so of course the priest would spin around to talk to everybody kind of like a lawn sprinkler trying to cover the whole lawn.