1966 Time Capsule Discovered in Cathedral Altar

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.”


Copy of 1966 St. Augustine Record / Photo by Scott Smith

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 late Msgr. John Burns

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!”

The items found in the time capsule were like a step back in time for today’s Cathedral rector. “I remember Msgr. Burns from when I was a child. I was eight-years-old when the church was being completed in preparation for the March 1966 blessing and grand opening. The fact of the matter is there are many people in St. Augustine who remember him. He expended a lot of personal effort and energy during the Cathedral’s renovation of the mid-1960s.”


Medallion of Pope St. Paul VI / Photo by Scott Smith

Medallion of Pope St. Paul VI / Photo by Scott Smith

The medallions of Pope Paul VI commemorate his election as Supreme Pontiff in 1964 and the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The latter is solid gold and was found to be in excellent condition.

The present renovation includes a full cleaning of the altar and moving it forward in the Cathedral’s sanctuary. This will provide better sight lines for those seated in the transepts of the church. A new pradella or platform will also be built around the altar. That makes the note found in the time capsule very meaningful.

The foreman of the 1960’s renovation placed a one-page note which said in part, “I really enjoyed working in this project and hope that the next company that works on the next renovation will enjoy it as much as I did.”

Baker remarked, “Almost 50 years later, I echo his sentiments. My crew and I have thoroughly enjoyed the work and our time here in St. Augustine.”

A new time capsule will be prepared to place in the altar once it is set in its new place in the Cathedral’s main sanctuary.

“Of course,” Father Willis said, “My mind is already turning with ideas of what can go into the new one! We’ll work closely with Mr. Baker and others to place appropriate items in it.