November 30, 2012

New archbishop means refurbished bishop’s chair for cathedral

Bob Hermann, the owner of Wm. Hermann and Son, a woodworking company in Indianapolis, takes apart Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein’s tapestry-covered cathedra on Nov. 7 to rebuild it with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s coat of arms carved in wood in time for the new archbishop’s installation Mass on Dec. 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Bob Hermann, the owner of Wm. Hermann and Son, a woodworking company in Indianapolis, takes apart Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein’s tapestry-covered cathedra on Nov. 7 to rebuild it with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s coat of arms carved in wood in time for the new archbishop’s installation Mass on Dec. 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Mary Ann Garber

Crossword puzzle fans will probably know the answer to this question.

What’s an eight-letter word that means “bishop’s chair”?

It’s “cathedra,” a Latin word that means “a bishop’s official chair or throne” and describes the symbolic seat for the bishop of a diocese in—where else?—a cathedral.

A cathedral is “the principal church of a bishop’s diocese, containing the episcopal throne,” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

In Greek, the name of the bishop’s chair is spelled “kathedrã.”

In ancient times, a chair was a sign of a person’s authority to teach others.

A cathedra is a symbol of a bishop’s authority to teach others through his preaching as well as an indication of his pastoral authority in the diocese. It also represents the unity of believers in the faith that he proclaims as the shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

Often designed with a high back and hopefully a soft seat cushion, this ornate chair is sometimes decorated with the bishop’s personal coat of arms and occupies a place of honor near the altar.

It can only be used by the bishop or archbishop when he is the principal celebrant for eucharistic liturgies and other sacraments as well as the presider for vespers or other prayer services at the cathedral.

When the bishop is not present for a Mass or prayer service, it remains empty and another liturgical chair is used by the celebrant.

When a bishop retires or dies, the cathedra is sometimes redone or replaced in preparation for the installation of a new bishop as the spiritual leader of the diocese.

The cathedra’s transformation appropriately signifies the end of an era—the conclusion of a bishop’s reign—in the history of a diocese.

After Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein asked Pope Benedict XVI to appoint an auxiliary bishop to help him prior to his early retirement for health reasons on Sept. 21, 2011, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was often the principal celebrant or presider at liturgies on his behalf.

But even as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, Bishop Coyne did not use the archbishop’s cathedra.

After more than a year when no one sat in the cathedra, it will receive a new occupant during Archbishop Tobin’s Mass of Installation on Dec. 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

A key moment in that liturgy will take place when the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and Bishop Coyne will accompany Archbishop Tobin to the cathedra and he will sit in it for the first time.

The chair has been specially refurbished for him by Bob Hermann, the owner of Wm. Hermann and Son woodworking company in Indianapolis.

Craftsmen at Weberding Carving Shop on State Road 46 in Batesville carved Archbishop Tobin’s coat of arms in oak and painted it with bright colors for the top of the walnut chair back.

On Nov. 7, Hermann began the task of rebuilding the cathedra by removing the large, colorful, embroidered tapestry of Archbishop Buechlein’s coat of arms, which will be preserved in a picture frame.

The cathedra’s oak sides are carved in a square pattern to match the altar.

“I’m making a new walnut seat and walnut back [for the predominantly oak cathedra], and red cushions for the seat and back,” Hermann said. “Weberding in Batesville is carving and painting the crest—the new archbishop’s coat of arms—in oak for the top of the chair back, which will probably be about six and a half feet tall. … They’re very good carvers. Whenever I need carvings, I go to Weberding.”

It’s quite an honor to remake the historic chair for the archbishop, Hermann said, especially because he is a St. Jude parishioner and graduate of Cathedral High School when it was located across the street from the cathedral in the building that is now the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center at 1400 N. Meridian St.

“This is a special project that I’m enjoying working on,” Hermann said, with design help from Father Patrick Beidelman, archdiocesan director of liturgy and vice rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.

Benedictine Brother Martin Erspamer of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, a talented liturgical artist, created the new design for the cathedra, and Hermann is working from his detailed drawings.

“I’m the fourth generation of my family to do this work,” Hermann said. “My great-grandfather started the company in 1911. His first church job was making the carved pew ends for Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Indianapolis. My grandfather built this place [at 1135 S. Pennsylvania St.] in the early 1960s. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of [custom] work for churches and schools.”

Not only is it an honor and privilege to rebuild the archbishop’s chair, Hermann said, it also is a labor of love.

Archbishop Tobin’s redesigned cathedra may not be used much during his first weeks as the spiritual leader of Catholics in central and southern Indiana, according to his official calendar, because he plans to travel to each of the archdiocese’s 11 deaneries to celebrate Mass at parish churches.

For those liturgies, the new archbishop will simply sit in the presider’s chair for the pastor at parish churches, and his first visits to parishes throughout the archdiocese will be historic and joyful occasions. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!