The buried remains of Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the Catholic church’s greatest 19th century figures, are to be transferred and given new prominence in Birmingham.
Plans to exhume the Cardinal’s body from its current resting place in Rednal and place it in a sarcophagus at the church he founded – the Oratory in Hagley Road, Edgbaston – are being backed by the Roman Catholic Archibshop of Birmingham and the city council.
With Newman expected to be beatified later this year, one step away from Sainthood, his new resting place is certain to become a shrine visited by hundreds of thousands of worshipers each year.
A spokesman for Archbishop Vincent Nicholls last night described Newman as well on the road to becoming a “saint for Birmingham” and said it was important for the sarcophagus to be easily accessible in order to allow as many people as possible to pay their respects.
Proposals for a 1.5m high green marble sarcophagus, to be positioned half way down the Oratory nave, have been welcomed by the council’s conservation and heritage panel.
Although he was born in London in 1801 and first came to prominence at Oxford, where he became the leader of a movement which encouraged Anglicans to return to their catholic roots, the final 40 years of Cardinal Newman’s life were spent in Birmingham.
Newman, who did not convert to Catholicisim until he was 44, was never more than an ordinary priest although he did found University College Dublin and become its first Rector.
His conversion in the middle of the 19th century, at a time when Catholics were still regarded with suspicion at the top of English society, meant ostracism by friends and relatives.
He was surprisingly made a Cardinal at the age of 78 by Pope Leo XIII, as a tribute to his “extraordinary work and devotion”.
His cause received a major boost in 2001 following the “miraculous” healing from a seemingly incurable spinal disorder of Deacon Jack Sullivan, a magistrate in Massachusetts, America.
Mr Sullivan was restored to full mobility after praying to Cardinal Newman on the Feast of the Assumption.
The Commission of Theologians, which will meet in Rome in September, is expected to recommend the Pope to beautify Newman. However, in order to proceed to Sainthood evidence of another miracle will have to be uncovered and proven.
The Very Rev Paul Chavasse, Provost at the Hagley Road Oratory, said: “Cardinal Newman was one of Birmingham’s greatest citizens in the 19th century and it is only fitting that the city should look to commemorate him..”
Rev Chavasse said the earthly remains of Cardinal Newman would have to be identified, preserved and placed in a new setting “befitting his new status in the Church”.
He added: “This is what we have been asked to do by the Vatican with regard to Cardinal Newman’s remains which have lain at Rednal since his death in 1890.
“We hope that Cardinal Newman’s new resting place in the Oratory Church in Birmingham will enable more people to come to pay their respects to him and, perhaps, to light a candle. Many will surely wish to honour this great and holy man.”
Worshippers will travel from the “four corners of the globe” to pay their respects to Newman, according to Peter Douglas Osborn, chairman of Birmingham City Council planning committee.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) added: “This is something that the council very much supports. It could be very important for Birmingham.
“I hope that we will act as a welcoming city and go out of our way to give hospitality to the many people who are going to make their way to the Oratory Church.
“The Catholic Church in Birmingham are very enthusiastic about this, and so are we.”