No physical remains of Card. Newman in coffin at Rednal, England

I received a very interesting e-mail this morning about the remains and cause of Ven. John Henry Newman.



Statement by Peter Jennings, Press Secretary to the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and for the Cause of the Beatification and Canonisation of  Cardinal Newman, Saturday 4 October 2008:
(The brass inscription plate on the wooden coffin in which Cardinal Newman was buried, recovered from his grave at Rednal on 2 October 2008. Picture by Peter Jennings. This picture is the copyright of the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory.)
"The grave of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801 – 1890) was excavated with the utmost care on Thursday 2 October 2008, Feast of the Guardian Angels. 
"Cardinal Newman died on Monday 11 August 1890 and was buried in the small secluded cemetery at the Oratory House, Rednal, near Birmingham on Tuesday 19 August 1890. He was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on 22 January 1991.
"During the excavation the brass inscription plate which had been on the wooden coffin in which Cardinal Newman had rested was recovered from his grave.  It reads:
‘Eminent [issimus] et Reverend [issimus] Joannes Henricus Newman Cardinalis Diaconus S Georgii in Velabro Obiit Die XI August. MDCCCXC RIP’
English Translation:       
‘The Most Eminent and Most Reverend John Henry Newman Cardinal Deacon of St George in Velabro Died 11 August 1890 RIP’
"Brass, wooden and cloth artefacts from Cardinal Newman’s coffin were found. However there were no remains of the body of John Henry Newman. An expectation that Cardinal Newman had been buried in a lead lined coffin proved to be unfounded.
"In the view of the medical and health professionals in attendance, burial in a wooden coffin in a very damp site makes this kind of total decomposition of the body unsurprising.
"The absence of physical remains in the grave does not affect the progress of Cardinal Newman’s Cause in Rome. [This is the crucial point.]
"The Birmingham Oratory has always been in possession of some actual physical remains of Cardinal Newman.
"These consist of some locks of hair, some of which were sent to Deacon Jack Sullivan prior to his inexplicable cure. These, together with items found in his grave, will be housed in a casket for a Vigil of Reception on Friday 31 October and Saturday 1 November, to be followed by the High Mass of All Saints on Sunday 2 November at 11.00 am, when the casket will be placed in the Oratory Church, Edgbaston."
The Very Reverend Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Postulator of the Newman Cause said: "The lack of substantial physical remains does nothing to diminish our deep reverence for Cardinal Newman. Yesterday’s outcome seems to have a Providential significance."
Father Chavasse added: "In the ‘Dream of Gerontius’, Cardinal Newman reflected on the experience of death. He wrote:
‘I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed. A strange refreshment: for I feel in me An inexpressive lightness, and a sense Of freedom, as I were at length myself, And ne’er had been before’."

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham said: "The establishment of this new location in the Oratory Church, Edgbaston, for our last bodily contacts with Cardinal Newman is an important moment and one that many people will want to mark with prayerful thanksgiving."

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  1. Fr Edward says:

    It looks as if the Cardinal has had his wish to remain amongst the Fathers of the Oratory. I think he will have a smile of his face about all this, and St Philip would find it very funny indeed!

  2. Fr Ray Blake says:

    Very Oratorian: Fr Faber dissappeared from his coffin, leaving nothing but his shoes!

  3. Michael says:

    Weren’t there even bones?

  4. Maureen says:

    It’s funny how God often does grant our wishes, even in little things. Maybe not in the timeframe we envision, of course…. :)

  5. Fr. Gary says:

    Did someone stole his remains (bones)? Who and why?

  6. Father Edward has ‘made’ my morning; many thanks!

  7. dominic1962 says:

    Bones can decompose as well, especially in conditions like those mentioned in the article. Decomposition is a funny thing, sometimes you get almost perfectly preserved natural mummies from a thousand years ago and sometimes you have basically nothing within 100 yrs.

  8. Woody Jones says:

    Time for me to unearth my copy of “Newman Against the Liberals” (or some such title) and start reading it again. Or for that matter the Biglietto Address.

  9. Mark S. says:

    I also find myself sympathising with Father edward’s views. I’m also pleased it won’t affect the beatification process – when I first heard about this, I was reminded about Thomas A Kempis. He was never canonised, due to events surrounding the exhumation of his body. When he was dis-interred, scratch marks were found on the inside of the coffin lid, with wood splinters under his fingernails – indicating he had been buried alive but unconscious, and when he recovered consciousness he had tried to get out of the coffin. His canonisation process promptly ceased, because it was argurd that a “true” saint wouldn’t have fught against death in this way. Obviously completely different to Cardinal Newman, but it does show how a significant occurrence at this stage could in theory have stalled the process.

  10. Barb says:

    Why in the world would trying to dig out of a grave like that be a cause of doubt? Even saints are
    supposed to preserve their lives in a prudent manner. He was as human as the rest of us and no doubt we would
    all be horrified if we found ourselves in such a situation. Who is to say he didn’t calm himself and make
    peace with this situation that God placed him in once the horror of it all subsided?

    Fiat Voluntas Tua

  11. joye says:

    Man. Would it be possible to reopen Thomas a Kempis’ cause? He got a raw deal!

  12. Mark S. says:

    Ferula and Joye: My feelings exactly! I actually heard something about this first from Father Benedict Groeshel on EWTN a few months ago, then found it out independently. I’m assuming the incident I described occurred in the Middle Ages, shortly after his death, when perhaps people were – I don’t mean this as bad as it sounds – not as enlightened as they are now. Although I don’t agree with the logic behind it, it explains why the writer of one of the great spiritual classics (“The Imitation of Christ”) was never canonised – I’d always wondered why.

  13. Mark S. says:

    As an addition to my last comment – this is the origin of the expression “saved by the bell”. It wasn’t unknown for a small bell to be placed in a coffin just in case of this. The unfortunate person really would be saved by the bell!

  14. Tina in Ashburn says:

    What a horrifying story about a Kempis. Yea, one bell here please!

    Well at least in the middle ages one was buried with decency rather having your organs and body pieces taken by aggressive organ harvesters. Not sure we are more enlightened today.

    Just spoke with a family friend who works at a funeral home. He was shocked by the state of bodies of those who donate. He says these bodies come in like formless sacks, much skin is gone, spineless, bones removed, eyes gouged – just about everything is gone. The bodies are sewn up roughly to hold them together. My friend’s eyes were wide as he said, ‘they really look like Frankenstein’s monster! If the families ever knew!” he said.

    He is a retired postal worker, a church-going Baptist with great respect for the dead. He actually asked me about Purgatory, feeling that it made sense. He also is annoyed by preachers who give the impression of the deceased being in heaven even if a known scoundrel. {!}

    I learn this not long after my pilot brother solemnly ordered me never to be a donor. In his line of work over 30 years he has dealt with those who pilot, harvest, and deliver body parts. His impression of the over-aggressive nature of this ghoulish practice has convinced him and his peers never to risk their life by submitting to organ donation.

    If death is rushed just one time, that’s too much. We may know when life begins, but nobody can really say when life ends.

    At one end of life, embryos are grown for ‘spare parts’, at the other end, somebody is waiting to take your used parts.

  15. QC says:

    In regards to a Kempis, it also bears pointing out that the identity of the author of “Imitation” was not clear for a long time. It had also been attributed to St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, Henry de Kalkar, Innocent III, Jean Charlier de Gerson, and John à Kempis.

  16. Chris says:

    Excellent! So glad Newman’s wishes have ended up having to be respected!

  17. michael says:

    Newman would have to be smiling over all of the business of where he should rest.

    Add to the Kempis story the belief that John Duns Scotus was also buried alive.

  18. Ohio Annie says:

    I thoght the story about Thomas a Kempis didn’t quite ring true. I was able to find out that the postulator of his cause died shortly after getting together all the required paperwork and there was no vice postulator. Apparently the paperwork was in a mess and nobody stepped forward to disentangle it. This to me sounds more plausible than the buried alive story.

  19. chris says:

    I think what is important to draw from all of this, is as mentioned, the cause goes ahead and goes ahead with full force and steam! This is not a set back, nor is it a means of giving up hope. This was just a small step in the process, as are the other ‘small steps’ in the process of making a Saint. The world watches and waits as the Cause continues and we still pray that if it be the will of God in his Church – a second miracle will happen and we can go through a similar process again! We will not rest until he is a Saint!

    Santo Subito!

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