Thursday, 6 November 2008

Newman's Bones

Conspiracy theorists all over the world can rub their hands after an article in the Birmingham Post:
The remains of a 19th century Birmingham Cardinal tipped for sainthood are unlikely to have been destroyed by soil acidity in a Worcestershire grave, an expert has said.

Professor John Hunter, from the University of Birmingham, cast doubt on the theory after testing soil from an area near to the Rednal cemetery from which Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman was exhumed.
The ancient history and archaeology professor said it would be "unusual" to find a body buried in 1890 so decayed that no human remains were left.
He said the soil tested was "not particularly acidic" and that he found it "difficult to believe" soil conditions near the grave were so extreme.
Professor Hunter said: "It is very interesting from a forensic point of view to find a body that has completely decayed within this amount of time. It is very unusual and very unlikely. If we have extreme soil conditions that take away human bones, they would also take away coffin handles, which are still there.
"I am not making any claims or accusations. I am merely looking at it from a (forensic) point of view."
Prof Hunter said he chose to investigate out of curiosity and was only able to obtain a sample from ground near to the cemetery, not from the grave itself. He said there were three options: either the soil environment of the grave was different to the sample tested, bones were missed when the grave was exhumed or the body was never there in the first place.
Relics that remain of the Cardinal - including locks of hair, a wooden crucifix and one of the coffin handles - were on display over the weekend at the Birmingham Oratory. They will rest in the Chapel of St Charles Borromeo as the process towards his beatification continues in Rome.

8 comments:

pelerin said...

ah ha - the mystery deepens! The only way to prove that the soil had eroded the body would be to examine others buried there which I suppose would not really be ethical.

Didn't I read somewhere that the cemetery had been troubled with vandals which was the reason for the controversial fence being erected? Would it have been possible for Newman's body to have been stolen? Or even to have been buried elsewhere in case his grave was disturbed?

It would be interesting to see the documents regarding his burial. 'The Case of the Missing Cardinal' looks like continuing for some time.

Anonymous said...

I am sure there are English Oratorians who believe the Cardinal's body was taken by aliens.

Jackie Parkes said...

Just put up a picture of Newman's relics in the side-chapel.

We tend to take a load of no notice about all these theories!

pelerin said...

Googling around for further information it was interesting to read contemporary newspaper reports of the Cardinal's death and funeral.

It does now look as though there is a rational explanation to his disappearance. The Birmingham Daily Post of August 20th 1890 was quoted by the Times on October 7th 2008. A first hand description of the funeral mentions that mould was spread over the coffin in order to fulfil Newman's wish to hasten his return to dust.

So if there really is a mould which can destroy bone and tissues (did Newman have his own teeth I wonder) then the mystery is solved.

Anonymous said...

I think that the oddest survival in Newman's grave is the fragment of tassel from his hat.

Fr Ray Blake said...

(did Newman have his own teeth I wonder)
He had lots of trouble with his teeth according to his letters,
My pet theory is his body was nicked by a rival oratory.

Pastor in Valle said...

…and perhaps the B.O. nicked Faber……

Auricularius said...

Its obvious what should happen. Both Oratories should assemble in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and fight it out.

The winner would have Newman's relics and the loser Faber's.

An Oratorian punch-up would put the Greeks and the Armenians to shame.