Skip to comments.Gravediggers come up short on would-be saint's remains
Posted on 10/31/2008 3:01:56 PM PDT by Gamecock
LONDON -- Plans to transfer the remains of 19th-century Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman from a humble country graveyard to a posh marble sarcophagus have been abandoned because gravediggers could not find his body.
When church officials sought to exhume his bones from his grave in a rural English cemetery on Thursday (Oct. 2), all they found were a brass plaque and a scattering of red tassels from his cardinal's hat.
The Catholic Church had wanted to shift Newman's remains to Birmingham Oratory, the Midlands edifice that he established in Victorian England, in preparation for his expected beatification as a saint, possibly later this year or next.
They were stunned to discover that his body -- buried in 1890 -- was gone.
"I have been visiting that grave since I was a very young boy," said Peter Jennings, spokesman for the Oratory. "I will never forget how I felt, standing there last Thursday, looking at this deep hole which had been dug out.
"This was the greatest churchman of the 19th century," Jennings said sadly, "and there was nothing there -- only dust."
Catholic officials quickly dismissed any theories about a conspiracy, speculating instead that since Newman's coffin was -- to their surprise -- wooden, not lead-lined, the cardinal's body had simply disintegrated in the 118 years since it was interred.
In an official statement, Jennings said that "brass, wooden and cloth artifacts from Cardinal Newman's coffin were found. However, there were no remains of the body."
Jennings told journalists that "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."
But he insisted that "the absence of physical remains in the grave does not affect the progress of Cardinal Newman's cause (to be made a saint) in Rome."
Catholic leaders had planned that, once Newman's body was in its new resting place in the Oratory, it would become a center of Christian pilgrimage.
Instead, the planners will now have to make do with the brass plaque and the remains of his cardinal's cap that were found in the crumbled coffin, plus a few locks of Newman's hair that have been in the Oratory's care since the days when the cardinal organized it.
The hair had been on loan to Jack Sullivan, a Boston deacon, whose "inexplicable" recovery from a debilitating spinal condition after praying to the cardinal is claimed as one of the two "miracles" that Newman's supporters need to prove their case for his sainthood.
The plaque, the tassels and the strands of hair are to be placed in a small casket, and will be put on public display during a vigil of prayer at the Birmingham Oratory on Oct. 31.
If he does become a saint, Newman would become the first non-martyred English saint since before the 16th-century Reformation.
What colors? Puce Protestant? :O)
http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=3904 Done by Lutherans as well, maybe others.