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Cardinal John Henry Newman

Cardinal John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman

The body of the Cardinal, buried in a Worcestershire cemetery, is to be moved to a special resting place of honour...

The Vatican has ordered that the body of Cardinal Newman be exhumed from his burial place and re-interred in a marble tomb at Birmingham Oratory, possibly in preparation for sainthood.

The Oratory was founded by John Henry Newman in 1848 and has been at its present site on Hagley Road in Edgbaston since 1851.

Cardinal Newman would be the first non-martyr saint in England since the Reformation, and the first British saint since the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales were canonised in one go, in 1970.

Anglican family

John Newman was born in London on 21 February 1801, into an ordinary family who were members of the Church of England.

He was sent to a private school in Ealing, where he went through a profound religious experience, aged 15, which was to shape his future life.

In 1817, he went to Trinity College, Oxford.

John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman

Church of England ordination

John Newman was ordained into the Anglican Church on Trinity Sunday, 13 June 1824, and worked as a curate in Oxford at St Clement's, and later as a Vicar at the University church of Saint Mary the Virgin.

In December 1832, he went on a tour of the Mediterranean with Hurrell Froude - a friend of his who wasn't in good health.

Whilst he was in Sicily, the Revd John Newman fell ill with a fever that had caused many people to die, and when he managed to recover from it, he had the conviction that God still had work for him to do in England.

Tractarian movement

He returned to Oxford and worked on initiatives such as the Tracts for the Times, which later led to the formation of the Tractarian movement.

Publication of the Tracts came to an end, at the request of the Bishop of Oxford, after some of his theories were denounced.

Roman Catholic conversion

John Newman decided to live a monastic way of life, with a few of his followers, at a place called Littlemore.

Here he prayed for light and guidance, and, on 9 October 1845, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father (now Blessed) Dominic Barberi.

This conversion meant him being snubbed by relatives and friends, but he headed off to Rome to study for the Priesthood.

Whilst he was there, he joined a congregation of priests founded by Saint Philip Neri - The Oratarians.

This Order was formed of Roman Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community, bound together by no formal vows, but only with the bond of charity.

The Dream of Gerontius

Amongst his many writings and poems, John Henry Newman wrote The Dream of Gerontius, which tells the journey of a man's soul after his death.

Sir Edward Elgar

Sir Edward Elgar

A copy of the poem was given to Sir Edward Elgar in 1889 as a wedding present, and he set it to music for the 1900 Birmingham festival.

English Oratory

John Newman founded the first English Oratory in 1848, at Maryvale in Birmingham, moving to St Wilfrid's College in Cheadle, then onto St Ann's, Alcester Street, in Birmingham and finally to Edgbaston in Birmingham, where a large building was built for the community.

The Oratory has been at its present site on Hagley Road in Edgbaston since 1851.

He lived a secluded life there for nearly forty years, except for four years in Ireland where he became the founder and first Rector of what is known today as University College, Dublin.

Unprecedented gesture

During his life in the Roman Catholic church many projects he worked on met with rejection or failure but, undeterred, he continued into old age, quietly writing, preaching and counselling.

And at the age of 78, in a surprise move and extraordinary act, Pope Leo XIII made the ordinary priest a Cardinal.

John Henry Cardinal Newman died at the Birmingham Oratory on 11 August 1890, from pneumonia.

The original burial place of Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Newman's original burial place

Friends in life and death

He was buried in the cemetery on Rednal Hill, at the Oratory Country House, and shares his grave with his lifelong friend, Ambrose St. John.

Ambrose had also become a Roman Catholic around the same time as John Newman, and the two men have a joint memorial stone, inscribed with the words he had chosen:

"Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem", which translates as "Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth".

Marble tomb

The body of Cardinal Newman, afetr exhumation, will be placed in a sarcophagus which will stand between the marble columns opposite the Holy Souls Altar in the Oratory Church, Edgbaston.

Sarcophagus of Blessed John Henry Newman 1801-1890

Sarcophagus of Blessed John Henry Newman

Sarcophagus of Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890, which is to be put in the Oratory Church, Edgbaston (picture courtesy of the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory).

Fr Chavasse said: "The sarcophagus will be a shade of green, and on it will be an inscription in silver lettering, a reproduction of Cardinal Newman's Coat of Arms, and his motto: 'Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem' (From shadows and images into the Truth).

"The sarcophagus will be surrounded by four silver candlesticks and surmounted by a handsome silver lamp."

Private exhumation

Fr Chavasse explained: "A number of seats near the sarcophagus will have to be removed in order to allow ease of access.

"The various stages of exhumation, inspection and reburial will be spread over several days and we anticipate that this will take place in the autumn of this year, once all is ready here in the church."

The Holy Souls Altar is the second of the side altars on the left hand side of the Oratory Church looking down the nave from the main entrance at the back.

Fr Chavasse emphasised that: "Part of the established procedure prior to a beatification requires that, if the body of the new Beatus exists, then it must be exhumed, inspected, and transferred to a place of honour befitting the person's new status.

"As a great man of the Church and devoted to the Saints himself, Cardinal Newman would have been the first to insist on obeying a request of the Holy See, and he last to insist that his own personal wishes be regarded as immutable.

"Hence it is that his body will not be returned to the grave at Rednal, but brought here into the Oratory Church and placed in a specially constructed sarcophagus."

Fr Chavasse stressed: "It should be noted that, at the specific request of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the exhumation will be an entirely private event but that the re-interment in our church will be a public ceremony."


Fr Chavasse continued: "On 24 April, the Board of Doctors attached to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, voted unanimously that the cure from a crippling spinal disease of Jack Sullivan, a permanent deacon from Boston, Massachusetts, could not be explained medically.

"On 30 September the Congregation's Board of Theologians, in its first meeting after the summer recess, will vote on the case, indicating by its decision whether or not the inexplicable cure was, beyond all reasonable doubt, the result of the intercession of Cardinal Newman."

Fr Chavasse added: "If the theologians vote in favour, the Cardinals of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints will meet to give their approval.

"Then the matter will be put before Pope Benedict XVI, who alone can issue the decree of beatification, which will probably occur sometime in December.

"It is likely that the actual beatification ceremony would be held in Rome during the spring or early summer of 2009.

"Once Pope Benedict XVI has signed the Decree, our Cardinal will immediately be known as Blessed John Henry Newman."

last updated: 08/08/2008 at 12:26
created: 18/07/2008

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