To mark the canonisation of St John Henry Newman, Downside wanted to share images of some items relating to the new saint in its collections. 

John Henry Newman was a prominent clergyman in Oxford in his time, and it was inevitable that his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845 would cause something of a stir, when Catholic Emancipation had taken place only in 1829. An accomplished speaker, he would bring his talents over to the Catholic Church and he eloquently explained his decision to convert in his Apologia pro vita sua. He would become known not only for his homilies, but for his hymns and his expression of the doctrine of the development of doctrine, the role of conscience and the purpose of higher education. He introduced the Congregation of the Oratory to England, and spent the last years of his life at the Birmingham Oratory.

Downside Abbey Archives and Library is very proud to have in its collections many letters from St John Henry Newman to members of the community and others associated with them. However, one treasured item is a bible owned by St John Henry Newman, with two inscriptions. ‘JHN – from his dear father. 1807’ and ‘I suppose I have used no bible so much as this. JHN.’

Ironically, if not unsurprisingly, this Bible is not a Roman Catholic one: it is a King James Version, witnessed by its extant first page. St John Henry Newman was born and raised within the Church of England, converting to Roman Catholicism in 1845. Newman’s personal Bible was donated to Downside Library in August 1994 by Dom Eric Phillips.

Newman’s correspondence demonstrates a keen interest in Downside’s pastoral and educative missions, and the abbey has shown itself to have keenly followed Newman’s life, work, and cult. The Library possesses a copy of documents produced in 1989 that would eventually assist in Newman’s canonization; these documents were presented by Maurice Couve de Murville, Archbishop of Birmingham (and educated at Downside School).