The Commemorative Shields
At the base of each minor vault are ten faux mosaic Commemoratives depicting the history of Catholicism in Nebraska. Each is presented as a bishop's shield, surmounted by a miter with lappets and titled, underneath, in an Escorial banner. The date of the event is stenciled on the wall under the shield. Each vividly colored scene is bound by an eleven by seven foot plaster frame, the design borrowed from the cupola windows. The background is dutch metal leaf. They begin on the northeast side and continue counter-clockwise, culminating with Jubilee Year 2000.
Situated between the "singing Windows," they complement the windows' representation of the liturgical year with their own chronological narrative. Like the other artwork created for this renovation, the designs were largely a collaboration between Brother William Woeger, F.S.C. and Evergreene Studios, some based on watercolors by Kimball. Paintings were done on canvas in sections, applied, and finished by hand (hand brushing, patination, etc.). In addition, up lighting was installed in the cornice, bringing out details of the ceiling painting.
Francisco de Coronado, Father Juan de Padilla, 1541
Coronado led an expedition for Spain in sear of Quivera, the mythical kingdom of god, reaching Nebraska in 1541. With him was Padre Juan de Padilla, a Franciscan, who returned the following year as a missionary and was shortly thereafter killed by Indians. This shield is divided into quadrants. At the upper left is the Spanish flag; at the lower right, the mission cross draped with a Franciscan knotted cincture. Flowing diagonally from upper right to lower left quadrants is a stylization of the Missouri River.
Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, S.J., 1838
Father DeSmet established a mission at Kanesville (Council Bluffs, Iowa) before traveling to Bellevue, Nebraska. There, he blessed the marriage of trader Lucien Fontenelle to Bright sun,d daughter of an Omaha Chief, and baptized their five children. This shield is also divided into quadrants, with Nebraska waterways, dividing the shield diagonally. At the upper left is the Jesuit seal. The lower right depicts entwined wedding rings and five streams of water flowing from a scallop shell, a symbol of baptism.
Bishop John Baptist Miege, S.J., 1851
Bishop Miege, of Missouri, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Indian Territory, encompassing present day Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, Wyoming, and much of Colorado. Omaha did not have a resident priest. Native American symbols dominate this shield: in the upper left, the Sacred Staff of the Omaha Tribe and the Winnebago ribbon; in the lower right a soaring sacred eagle. The United States flag of 1851 fills the upper right quadrant. The Papal Insignia of Pius IX, who appointed Bishop Miege, is at the lower left.
Saint Mary Church, 1856
Property for the church was purchased by Thomas Cuming, Territorial Governor of Nebraska. Cuming was Episcopalian and his wife, Margaret, was Catholic. The church, on Eighth Street between Harney and Howard, was the first of any denomination in Omaha and became the first Catholic cathedral. In 1859, the Very Reverend James O'Gorman was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Nebraska. The upper portion of this shield depicts Saint Mary Church. The blue and white Missouri River flows beneath. At the lower left is the crozier of Bishop O'Gorman, seen above the black and white of his Trappist habit. The date of his appointment is above the crozier. At the lower right is the Seal of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where Governor Cuming was a member. The names of Thomas and Margaret Cuming are inscribed.
Saint Philomena, 1867
The building of this Gothic Cathedral at the corner of Ninth and Harney Streets was begun in 1867 by Bishop O'Gorman and dedicated the following year. Two years after the bishop's death in 1874, Bishop James O'Connor was appointed. In 1907 this lovely church was razed to create a warehouse district. The Saint Philomena window was saved and installed in the present Cathedral's south ambulatory. The image of the Cathedral of Saint Philomena fills the upper section of the shield, above a representation of the Missouri River. Below are the three rivers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Bishop O'Connor served his first church. His bishop's crozier is in the center. Two shamrocks represent Bishops O'Gorman and O'Connor, natives of Ireland.
Saint Cecilia Cathedral, 1907
The masterwork of architect Thomas Rogers Kimball, the Cathedral was the tenth largest in the United States at the time of its construction. Built on one of the highest points of the city, its twin towers are a familiar and beloved landmark. Like the two previous shields, the upper portion depicts the edifice, in this case, Omaha's third Cathedral. Below left are the Coats of Arms of Bishop Richard Scannell, who began this project, and Archbishop Jeremiah Harty. The latter served as Archbishop of Manila, the Philippines, before being installed as bishop here in 1916 and serving for nine years. On the lower right is printed "TRK fecit" (Thomas Rogers Kimball made this).
Eucharistic Congress, 1930
A milestone for the Omaha Cathedral, with visitors from across the country, including the Apostolic Delegate, the Most Reverend Pietro Fumasoni-Biondi. The top half of this shield bears a monstrance and crossed Papal flags. The lower left is the Coat of Arms of Bishop Joseph Rummell, who served the See of Omaha from 1928 to 1935. It was Bishop Rummell who organized this Eucharistic Congress. In the lower right quadrant is the harp of Saint Cecilia, surrounded by a wreath, her crown of victory.
In 1959, the Cathedral was declared complete and debt-free, requirements for consecration. On April 9 of that year, it was consecrated by Archbishop Gerald Bergan and eighty priests. Omaha had been named an archdiocese in 1945, with James Ryan the first archbishop. After Ryan's death in 1947, Archbishop Bergan was installed. This shield is divided into quadrants. At the upper left, we see a Consecration Candle, and diagonally opposite the Holy Chrism, a sacramental oil used to anoint the walls. At the upper right is the Coat of Arms of Archbishop Bergan. The shield also depicts the Coats of Arms of Archbishops Ryan and Rummell. All contributed to the development of the Cathedral.
Second Vatican Council, 1962
The Second Vatican Council was attended by Archbishop Bergan and Auxiliary Bishop (later Archbishop) Daniel Sheehan. It was an event which transformed the Church. This image is surmounted by the words: Lumen Gentium (Light to the Nations), one of the Council's principal documents on the role of the Church in the modern world. Underneath these words is the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. On the shield's lower left is the Coat of Arms of Pope John XXIII. On the lower right is the Coat of Arms of Archbishop Sheehan.
Jubilee Year, 2000
This special year commemorated the celebration of redemption in Christ in union with Christian people throughout the world. In this shield we find the theme for the Jubilee Year in the Chi Rho, symbol of Jesus Christ (upper left) and "Yesterday, Today, Forever" (lower right). The Coat of Arms of Pope John Pal II (upper right) and the Coat of Arms of Archbishop Curtiss (lower left) are also depicted.
~The Beauty of Thy House, 2005