Cardinal Newman vigil of reception

31/10/2008 9:05 am

By Peter Jennings

The Vigil of Reception for the remains of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) is being held in the imposing Upper Cloister Hall at the Birmingham Oratory, in Edgbaston, today, Friday 31 October (9am to 7pm) and on Saturday 1 November (9am to 6pm).

When visitors enter the Cloister Hall, situated on Birmingham's busy Hagley Road, they are entering a part of the buildings that Cardinal Newman would have known himself. This large hall was constructed as part of the provision made by the Fathers of the Oratory for their School, which the then Father John Henry Newman opened in May 1859.

Visitors of all Christian traditions, other Faiths and none, will have the opportunity to see a few physical remains of the best known English Churchman of the 19th century.

Some short while before his death on Monday 11 August 1890, Cardinal Newman had expressed the wish that he might return to the dust from which he had been formed, and that this should happen in his grave at the Oratory House, Rednal, on the outskirts of Birmingham.

When Cardinal Newman’s grave was opened, at the request of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, on Thursday 2 October 2008, it was discovered that the great English Cardinal's body had returned to its’ native clay and that only the barest remains survived.

The most important remains on show are some locks of the Cardinal Newman’s hair. Some of these can be seen in a small reliquary contained within the Casket Reliquary that stands in the middle of the collection.

A second important physical relic is a piece of linen thought to be stained with Cardinal Newman’s blood, that had been until recently in the safe keeping of the Sisters of the Spiritual Family The Work, who look after the College at Littlemore, near Oxford, where John Henry Newman became a Catholic on 9 October 1845.

Also in the Casket Reliquary can be seen a small crucifix made of wood and with silver edging, which was retrieved from the grave, and, in a small silver-topped container, some of the soil from the area where the Cardinal's coffin had been.

In the left hand display cabinet visitors will have an opportunity to see one of the handles from the Cardinal's coffin, retrieved from the ground when his grave was opened. The other three handles are still undergoing conservation.

The most important remains of the coffin, placed in the same cabinet, are the brass nameplate and the ornate brass Cardinal's hat with its accompanying tassels and cross. It is thought that these items, along with the handles, were made by John Hardman and Company, the famous Birmingham firm of ecclesiastical suppliers.

Also on display in the right-hand cabinet are a rosary that belonged to Cardinal Newman, one of his breviaries, a red biretta and a zuchetta (skull-cap) from the collection of the Cardinal's robes preserved in the Oratory House at Edgbaston in 1852. Also on show are of the Cardinal's letters, written in 1866 to Gerard Manley Hopkins when the young poet was thinking about becoming a Catholic.

Also on show is Cardinal Newman’s crozier and two of his cassocks – one made of very fine red silk, the other much simpler with red piping.

On Sunday, November 2, at the Birmingham Oratory, during the Solemn High Mass of All Saints (11am) the remains of John Henry Cardinal Newman in the Casket Reliquary will be placed in the Chapel of St Charles Borromeo. They will rest in this chapel while the step by step process towards Cardinal Newman's Beatification continues in Rome.