The Miracle of the Cardinal’s Tassels

I was very moved by the plea of the human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, that the body of Cardinal Newman be allowed to remain, as the man wished, in the grave of his very dear friend, Father Ambrose St John.

I am not a religious man. When a person ceases to exist, one’s obligations to them end. A person who is dead, and therefore insensible, cannot be disappointed. However, I do think that it is a virtue, voluntarily, to carry those hopes out. While we are alive, it is good to feel that we live in a culture which takes care to fulfil last promises. It would comfort me, as I died, to know that others would do a final thing for me, in my absence. Therefore, a person who respects those last wishes, does a good thing.

It is said that Cardinal Newman was gay, and that his relationship with Father Ambrose St John was homosexual. That may be so. Gay men have certainly found in the Catholic Church, both a persecutor, and a happy home. However, we can only speculate about Cardinal Newman and Father Ambrose St John understood their relationship. I have a number of very close friendships, with people who are enormously dear to me: but only the one with my wife is sexual in nature.  I’m not sure if I’d have any particular desire to be buried with somebody other than her, but people are entitled to be a little odd about these things.

The fact is, Cardinal Newman wanted to be buried with Father Ambrose St John, and it was therefore probably very wrong to try to dig him up. Worse, the plan was to dismember his body in order to distribute it about Europe.

It has also given the go-ahead for Catholic experts in holy objects to fly in from Italy and retrieve “major relics” from the corpse.

These will most likely be bones from his fingers which will be shared out between key churches in Britain – as well as one being sent to the Vatican. They will be placed in shrines where pilgrims can pray to the cardinal. A selection of minor relics __- small fragments of bone and cloth – will also be collected.

Pretty grisly stuff.

However, I do suspect that Cardinal Newman, a fellow who took his religion very seriously, would have been chuffed to bits to become a saint, and therefore might well have been prepared to accept disinterment, as the price of saintdom. Apparently, he did believe that saints’ bones could work wonders…

Well, it looks as if Cardinal Newman – if his spirit does exist – will get to join the saints, while staying in his grave.

The Times reports:

The bones of the Victorian cardinal who is in line to become Britain’s first saint for almost 40 years have disintegrated, hampering plans to turn his final resting place into a centre of Christian pilgrimage.

Church officials exhuming the body of Cardinal John Henry Newman were surprised to discover that his grave was almost empty when it was opened on Thursday. All that remained were a brass plate and handles from Newman’s coffin, along with a few red tassels from his cardinal’s hat.

The discovery will not affect Newman’s case for sainthood. But officials have had to abandon plans to transfer his bones from a rural cemetery in Rednal, Worcestershire, to a marble sarcophagus at Birmingham Oratory, which Newman founded after converting to Catholicism from the Church of England.

I like the idea that all that is left of the man is his red tassels: just to show that he was really there.

In order to become a saint, Cardinal Newman has to have been held responsible for a certain number of miracles. Miracles of the Biblical type are fairly rare these days, and so we are often encouraged to treat events which are merely unlikely or explicable but particularly beneficial, as miraculous events.

I quite like the idea that miracles are outcomes which are unexpected, but peculiarly apt. Therefore, I would like to think of this, as the Miracle of the Cardinal’s Tassels.

PS: If we had an atheist Thought for the Day, this is the sort of thing I’d want to hear. Until that day, content yourself with Platitudes of the Day