A vigil of reception has been held for the lying-in-state of a 19th Century Midland cardinal tipped for sainthood.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the Roman Catholics in England, celebrated mass in Birmingham Oratory for Cardinal John Henry Newman on Saturday.
Worshippers joined in a vigil over his remains, which were on display in the church that he founded in Edgbaston, until Sunday.
The Cardinal’s grave, in Rednal, Worcestershire, was dug up as part of a bid to have him elevated to saintly status by the Pope. Although there were no remains of the cardinal’s body found, locks of his hair and fragments of cloth from the grave were put on display in the upper hall of the Oratory’s cloister buildings.
As well as the coffin’s brass insignia, a small cross and tassels from the cardinal’s hat were also recovered.
The Archbishop of Birmingham Vincent Nichols said the relics were on display until Sunday, when they will be enshrined in St Charles’s chapel until a permanent shrine can be prepared.
Cardinal Newman was revered during his lifetime as a priest, theologian, writer and one of the church’s greatest converts of recent times. He died on August 11, 1890, aged 89, and was buried at the Oratory House in Rednal.
If Cardinal Newman is made a saint he will be the first Englishman, who was not a martyr, to be made a saint since before the Reformation in the 16th century.
Cardinal Newman died in August 1890 and was buried in the small secluded cemetery at the Oratory House, Rednal. He was declared Venerable, the first stage on the road to sainthood, by Pope John Paul II in January 1991.
His grave was excavated on October 2 this year, the Feast of the Guardian Angels.
Brass, wooden and cloth artefacts from Cardinal Newman’s coffin were found. However there were no remains of the body after an expectation that Cardinal Newman had been buried in a lead lined coffin proved unfounded.
The brass inscription plate which had been on the wooden coffin was recovered from the grave. It reads: “The Most Eminent and Most Reverend John Henry Newman Cardinal Deacon of St George in Velabro Died 11 August 1890 RIP.”
The exhumation process attracted criticism from gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who pointed out that it was Cardinal Newman’s dying wish that he be buried with his closest friend in the grounds of the house they had shared as priests.
Mr Tatchell said the decision to separate the remains of Newman and Ambrose St John raised questions about whether the Church was embarrassed about their relationship.
The cardinal repeated on three occasions his desire to be buried with his friend, including shortly before his death in 1890.
“I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John’s grave – and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote, later adding: “This I confirm and insist on.”