On the occasion of Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz’s 50th Priesthood Jubilee last summer, he received an unusual but welcome gift: a stone from Lincoln Cathedral in England. The stone, which was retrieved during a 1972 restoration, was one of the original elements of the grand Romanesque structure.
This remarkable gift came from Father Regis Barwig, prior of the Community of Our Lady. The monastery is situated in Oshkosh, Wisc., the bishop’s home state.
For some 40 years, Father Barwig has been collecting stones from pre-Reformation cathedrals in England. His current inventory includes stones from Wells, Peterborough, Durham, York, Canterbury and others.
This particular stone, which measures 15 x 10 x 8 inches, was taken from one of the capitals, or uppermost parts of a column. It had been hewn to size and installed sometime between 1072, when William the Conqueror (1028-1087) ordered the cathedral’s construction, and 1092, when the Lincoln Cathedral was consecrated.
In January 1066, England’s throne was hotly disputed by three different pretenders – including William, who was a distant relative of the recently deceased Edward the Confessor. William prevailed through several battles and was crowned King of England on Christmas Day in 1066.
William introduced the Norman/French culture to medieval England, bringing a degree of civility along with the valuable protection of his well-trained armies. He was also responsible for several major building projects, including the Tower of London, various castles and keeps, and the Lincoln Cathedral.
As a community, England’s prosperous city of Lincoln had enjoyed prominence during Roman times because it was the meeting point of five main roads. Once a castle was established on the southeast corner of the city, William requested the see be moved from nearby Dorchester to Lincoln. He ordered a cathedral to be constructed on the southwest corner in 1072.
One of William’s most ardent supporters was a Benedictine monk, Remigius. Remigius became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln. At that time, it was the largest diocese in medieval England.
Remigius oversaw the 20-year building project, though he died just two days before it was consecrated.
The initial portion of Lincoln Cathedral was Romanesque. A fire around 1141 destroyed most of the Cathedral. It was partially rebuilt using the most advanced architectural techniques of the day.
In 1185, however, an earthquake caused structural damage. Repairs were not begun until seven years later, under the direction of Saint Hugh of London. Saint Hugh was so enthusiastic in his oversight, he even did menial tasks to help the workers.
A series of renovations and expansions ensued for the next several centuries. Towers collapsed and were raised again. When a spire was added to the central tower in the 1300s, Lincoln Cathedral became the tallest structure in the world until the spire was blown down during a storm in 1548.
Despite its ongoing physical problems, Lincoln Cathedral has been the most prominent landmark of the region, offering a glorious testimony of faith that can be seen 30 miles away.
"I have always held… that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isle and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have," wrote John Ruskin (1819-1900), a renowned English writer and art critic.
The Cathedral is home to one of four remaining signed copies of the Magna Carta (a document that limited the powers of the king and afforded certain freedoms to commoners). It’s also the setting for a number of romantic tales and legends.
When Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534, he also robbed Lincoln Cathedral of the attentive care of several orders of monks from the area, who had made repairs and routine maintenance for hundreds of years.
Over the centuries since then, the cathedral has suffered from neglect.
Various restoration projects in recent decades have sought to return structural integrity and architectural beauty to Lincoln Cathedral. Hence, this particular capital stone became available for purchase and eventually was given to Bishop Bruskewitz, who in turn presented the stone to the Nebraska’s Diocese of Lincoln.
"I know of no more suitable place for it to find a home," Father Barwig wrote to the bishop.
Plans are currently underway to find an appropriate location to display the stone at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln. An accompanying narrative will provide the stone’s history.
"It will be of interest to history buffs," said Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, vicar general of the diocese. "It is also a reminder that England had been a very devout and solidly Catholic country until Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church in England."
Printed with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register, newspaper from the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb.