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Friday, 11 August 2006

Grave of John Henry Newman

John Henry Cardinal Newman was buried at Rednal in August 1890 (it is his anniversary today). It is commonly known that Newman asked to be buried in the same grave as his dear friend, Ambrose St John. This has caused a lot of whispering - even to the extent that some gay campaigners claim Newman as a sort of closet Victorian gay.

I have never believed this: apart from any other consideration, the gay culture is a recent phenomenon. It is anachronistic to attribute that way of thinking to Victorians, even if they had affectionate friendships which seem a little sentimental to us today. Nevertheless, I did always think Newman's quite firm request to be buried in the same grave as his friend was a little odd. Fr Guy Nicholls solved this mystery for me when I was visiting Rednal earlier this week.

Here is the picture you usually see with the memorial inscription for Newman and St John.


However, Fr Guy instructed me to include in my photograph not only Newman's grave but the graves on either side:


On the left is the grave of Edward Caswall who died in 1878: on the right is John Joseph Gordon who died in 1853; Ambrose St John died in 1875. All three of these men worked very closely with Newman and he felt that they had died relatively young in helping to carry forward his own projects. His instruction for his own burial was not a gesture of affection for St John alone but a desire for the mortal remains of the four of them to imitate the cross.
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