It’s May 2020 and a group of people are in the middle of fixing up a church in Ziębice, Poland. While working on the outside of the structure, they soon discover a time capsule sitting above the steeple. Once the renovators bring it down, it dawns on them that the container is the oldest of its kind to be unearthed in Europe.
As time passes most buildings require some renovation to stop them from falling into disrepair. Furthermore, the work should add some longevity to the structures too. So the Polish church in question was in that position going into the spring of 2020, centuries on from its construction in Ziębice.
You see, in the 1400s a fortress was erected on a plot of land in the Polish city, before it got replaced at the back-end of the 18th century. At that point, the church was built in 1797, and served the community for around 150 years. But everything changed when World War Two came to an end.
Following that conflict, the church was transformed into a school for local children. And in more recent times, it’s been utilized to host sporting events in the town. However, no one could’ve predicted what the renovators eventually found at the top of the old structure in May 2020.
Before we take a closer look at the time capsule’s contents, though, let’s briefly discuss the significance of the discovery itself. As we noted earlier, it proved to be Europe’s oldest time capsule, having been stored above the church in 1797. That lined up with when the building was first constructed in Ziębice.
Once the time capsule was cracked open, experts and administrators alike carefully examined the items inside. As they did that, the group were given a fascinating glimpse into the past. Indeed, thanks to the container, they now had an opportunity to form a better understanding of that period in Ziębice’s history.
A similar thing happened in Boston, Massachusetts, back in January 2015. Yes, a few weeks before that, a team of people were attempting to patch up a leak at the city’s State House. And while making the repairs, they went on to find an old time capsule below the building.
To be more specific, the time capsule had been kept inside one of the State House’s foundations. Due to this, the aforementioned workers spent around seven hours trying to get it out as carefully as possible. Meanwhile, the box itself proved to be even older than the container found in Poland, as it dated back to 1795.
That made it the world’s oldest time capsule to date. And if that wasn’t enough, the box was actually put together by two important figures in America’s history. Yes, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams both contributed to the contents, alongside another man named Williams Scollay, who served in the Revolutionary War.
And Revere and Adams subsequently placed the time capsule inside the State House’s foundations, ahead of its discovery more than two centuries later. After it was taken out, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts attempted to open the container in January 2015. Much like before, it was a time-consuming process that lasted several hours.
To give you an idea of just how palpably tense the opening was, the museum’s director spoke to the CNN website in January 2015. Malcolm Rogers recalled, “Could we actually go through the whole box, or would things prove too fragile to take out? It was like brain surgery, with history looking down on us.”
The responsibility fell on Pam Hatchfield, who plied her trade as the head of objects conservation at the facility. And she utilized items such as bamboo, a dental instrument and a quill from a porcupine to finally get the time capsule open. From there, Hatchfield and company couldn’t contain their excitement.
Now, the time capsule had five old newspapers inside it, as well as a commonwealth seal from the state. In addition to that, the mysterious box housed a document that detailed some of the “colony records” in Massachusetts at the time. Hatchfield uncovered more than 20 vintage coins too.
But the biggest surprise was still to come as Hatchfield reached the time capsule’s base. At that stage, she pulled out a silver sheet that included an inscription. “[It was] probably made by Paul Revere and engraved by him,” Rogers suggested to CNN. “That was the treasure at the end.”
As it turned out, though, Hatchfield wasn’t the first person to look inside the time capsule since 1795. In fact, the container was unearthed back in 1855 when the State House underwent a few renovations. The items were wiped over and placed back inside, while some other articles joined them as well.
When that happened, officials made sure to write down what they found, before returning the time capsule to its former position. And then it remained untouched for well over 150 years. On that note, Rogers made an interesting point about his mindset going into the big discovery in January 2015.
Yes, Rogers told CNN, “Though we knew a little bit about what was in the box, it was [still] a moment of extraordinary excitement, as this brass container just the size of a cigar box was slowly opened with surgical precision. You suddenly found yourself in the presence of history.”
Meanwhile, Hatchfield shed additional light on the coins they’d uncovered. The time capsule contained a pine tree shilling dating back to 1652, alongside numerous quarters and dimes. Also, she noted that the box was filled with a fair share of coppers to shield the other items from fungal damage.
Around five months on from the time capsule’s second recovery, it was put back into its old spot again in June 2015. And much like the officials did in 1855, some new objects were placed inside the box. Those included a silver tablet and a modern collection of mint coins.
Speaking at the event, the state’s governor outlined why this box had drawn so much attention. Charlie Baker explained, “What makes this time capsule so unusual is it’s not an interpretation from a historian. It’s not a passage in a text book, it’s the story that our predecessors from that Revolutionary time wanted us to know and understand.”
Keeping that in mind, let’s redirect our focus back to the time capsule from Ziębice. As we touched upon earlier, it was hidden above the church’s steeple inside a sphere. But once that part of the structure was taken down, people quickly noticed that the orb had sustained a bit of damage on the outside.
Indeed, the church’s sphere sported a number of different bullet marks. According to The First News website, there’s a good chance that that happened back in 1945, when soldiers from the Soviet Union’s military marched into the area. Thankfully, though, the time capsule itself didn’t appear to be affected by the gunfire.
Later on, the copper box was carefully opened up inside Ziębice’s administrative building. And the experts on hand were greeted by a host of documents in a near-perfect state, verifying the age of the capsule. After that, the city’s mayor shared the information with The First News in May 2020.
Yes, Mariusz Szpilarewicz informed the website, “All indications are that it may be one of the oldest time capsules found in the world. The oldest capsule in the world dates back to the 18th century and was discovered in Boston. Our capsule is probably two years younger than the Boston one.”
Regarding the contents, Szpilarewicz’s deputy explained why the paper was in there. Małgorzata Wołczyk said, “Documents relating to the construction of the church were found. We have the names of people involved in the construction, probably donors.” One such letter was written by two ladies, confirming that they partly financed the build.
But as the experts looked at the papers, they came to an realization – the text wasn’t penned in Polish. No, instead the content of the letters was all in German. And that discovery once again reaffirmed the dates inside the time capsule, as Ziębice hasn’t always been a community in Poland.
Indeed, Ziębice used to be known as “Münsterberg” back in 1797. You see, during that period of history, it was a city in Prussia. Yet while the time capsule gave citizens a glimpse of those years, it also harbored objects from a later date, just like the container in Boston.
As it turned out, pictures and files from the early 1900s had been placed inside the box too. It’s believed that the time capsule was most likely accessed by church officials when the building had some work done between 1902 and 1903. However, the experts made a surprising discovery after looking over those items.
When compared to the condition of the older papers, the more recent additions were in a pretty bad state. Despite this, the historians were able to confirm that some of the items were evangelical prayer books. And if that wasn’t enough, a 1902 issue of the Münsterberger Zeitung newspaper was uncovered.
Furthermore, the time capsule included several coins. Now, The First News website suggested that they might’ve been thrown in to help verify the box’s age, should the documents have become unreadable. And the years on the coins varied, with one boasting a date of 1876 while others were from the turn of the 20th century.
After the capsule was unearthed again in 2020, a member of the Lower Silesia Heritage Conservation Office shared his thoughts. Yes, Marek Kowlaski told The First News, “These people wanted to tell us, ‘We were here, we put our heart and life into this. Now you take it over and look after what we left here.’”
Of course, Kowlaski’s words could be applied to a number of different time capsules that have been made down the years. For instance, one of the more interesting examples involved a record collection from back in 1907. At that time, a total of 24 vinyls were encased in lead and iron boxes.
From there, the records were taken to a storage closet inside the Paris Opera in France. Once they were safely inside, the door was bolted to keep them in place. Alfred Clark, who concocted the idea, then declared that the unique capsules had to stay shut for the next century.
Although the room was eventually opened up again in 1912, that was done to add another 24 items to the pile. Alongside them, a gramophone was placed in there too. But several decades later, staff at the Paris Opera were greeted by a shocking sight ahead of the 100-year marker.
Yes, as the 1980s came to a close, the Paris Opera was having some work done. While that was happening, the facility’s director wanted to unlock the closet that housed the time capsules. The door was subsequently opened, and they quickly realized that a box full of records had been taken.
To compound the disappointment, the gramophone was gone as well. So the other capsules were handed over to the French National Library, where they’d be kept until 2007. Once the time arrived, two of the boxes were emptied and their records placed on display with a replica of the missing device.
The music was then transferred to computers, which allowed EMI to release everything onto a CD in 2009. However, not all of the time capsules were opened during that period. In fact, one box from 1907 remained shut because the person in charge had an eye on the future.
To explain more, Elizabeth Giuliani sat down to talk with The New York Times in February 2009. She revealed, “Even if these old records are played once, they are slightly damaged by the needle [of the gramophone]. We decided to await new optical technologies that can read them without touching them.”
So while music fans were given the chance to listen to those special tracks, Ziębice residents were in a somewhat similar position regarding their own time capsule. Indeed, Wołczyk confirmed to The First News website that the container’s items would be carefully cleaned up. From there, they’d be handed over to the town’s museum.
Thanks to that decision, locals and tourists alike will have an opportunity to see the contents in person. Yet that isn’t to say that the time capsule itself was about to be scrapped. You see, discussions had already started about copying some of the old letters, ahead of sticking them inside a different box at the church. Then, in another 100 years, it’ll be time to open it up again.