Friday 16 February 2007

Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman

Most biographies record today as the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Wiseman, first Archbishop of Westminster. However, according to the inscription by his tomb in the Cathedral crypt, yesterday was the day.

Cardinal Wiseman, of course, died before the Cathedral was built. His funeral took place at St Mary Moorfields (by Liverpool Street Station in the City), and he was buried in a grand ceremony at St Mary's Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green (near Paddington). A contemporary illustration from the Illustrated London News (below) shows the size of the gathering. In 1907, Cardinal Bourne gained permission from the Home Secretary to remove the remains of Cardinals Wisman and Manning to the newly opened Cathedral.

Cardinal Wiseman lies directly beneath the High Altar, in the small chapel of St Edmund. His tomb is the only gothic monument in this otherwise Byzantine Cathedral, and was designed by Edward Pugin, son of the more famous Augustus Welby Pugin.

Panels around the monument depict scenes from the Cardinal's life; firstly, his consecration as Archbishop by Pope Pius IX in 1840 (below).

Below, Cardinal Wiseman presides over the first Provinical Synod of Westminster at Oscott in 1852, when John Henry Newman preached his famous 'Second Spring' sermon.

Finally, he is depicted on his death bed

Wiseman was an extraordinary man, and one of the key figures in the revival of Catholicism in this country. Born in Spain to Irish parents, he studied at the English College in Rome, becoming its Rector in 1828 at the astonishing age of 25. A fine linguist, he was given charge of the Vatican's arabic manuscripts (I recall his exotic collection of books still in the library at the English College, whch included his volumes of 'Hindoo'). In 1850, he became the first Archbishop of the newly erected Diocese of Westminster, and a Cardinal.
During his life, his preaching, writings and example did much to advance the Catholic cause in England, and he was widely respected as a churchman and a scholar. His Cardinal's hat still hangs above his tomb, although it is much the worse for wear (tradition dictates it must stay there until it falls to the ground, at which point the great Cardinal's soul may at last enter paradise!).


Lover of Futility said...

Fascinating post Monsignor! Is there any literature available that details the tombs etc in the Cathedral?

Lover of Futility said...

Just a follow up thought with regard to the relief of Wiseman with the Pope.

According to The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church(, Wiseman was elected titular bishop of Milopotamo and appointed coadjutor of the apostolic vicar of the Central District and president of Oscott College, May 22, 1840. He was consecrated on June 8, 1840, chapel of the English College, Rome, by Cardinal Giacomo Filippo Fransoni, assisted by Jean Théodore Laurent, titular bishop of Chersoneso and by James Kyle, titular bishop of Germanicia.

Pius IX became Pope in 1846 so I presume the relief shows something other than Wiseman's consecration, perhaps his elevation to the Sacred College in 1850?

Fr Nicholas said...

I found the Telegraph report of the translation of Wiseman's body in 1907 the other day in the archive - and it gives the date as 15 February 1907 b(the anniversary of Wiseman), as opposed to the date insdicated by the inscription...

Mark Langham said...

No real literature about them - although incidental descriptions are given in the Cathedral guidebook and in the large volume 'Building of Faith' published in 1995 but now out of print.

Andrew said...

Is the late Cardinal depicted wearing his mitre? Why is it shaped oddly?

Mark Langham said...

Yes, Andrew, he is wearing his mitre, but the lower type favoured by the Gothic revivalists (as opposed to the tall Roman style). Furthermore, a compact mitre is easier to carve in stone, and has less chance of being damaged!