Restorations in St. John Henry Newman's Private Chapel, Rooms and Library

Many of our readers may remember our article on some of the liturgical effects of Cardinal Newman and as part of that we featured some images of his private chapel, located within his rooms at the Birmngham Oratory.  Unfortunately Newman's rooms have been in need of some restoration work, including within his private chapel and, thankfully, work has now been proceeding in this regard. One such example of such work was the restoration of the hanging canopy which was over top Newman's personal altar -- both dated to 1879 -- seen here below. As one can see, the materials had degraded on the canopy and the tasseled fringe was in danger of falling off.


Restoration efforts were undertaken to restore the canopy to its original form.


By way of additional notes, other restoration efforts are also taking place of a non-liturgical nature, including the restoration of the walls and wallpaper of the sainted cardinal's room and the restoration of his library.

Restoration work in Newman's library

Walls, ceiling and wallpaper (before restoration)

Newman's private study cleared for restoration efforts

After conservation

More information is provided below by the Birmingham Oratory, but let me make the point that the Oratory is trying to fundraise to help pay for these conservation efforts. If you're interested in helping toward this very worthy cause, please see their appeal or read below for further information.

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The Cardinal’s Library

Newman’s Library contains over 13,000 volumes, which were collected by him and are still as he arranged them, in a library of his design (loosely based on the senior library at Oriel College, where he was a fellow).

Over recent decades the lantern roof of the library had decayed, and all but one of the beams supporting one side of the roof had almost completely rotted away. It seems almost miraculous that it did not collapse – and it certainly would have done if left any longer. Metal poles were being used to prop up the weaker side of the roof.

The lantern roof has been entirely rebuilt, matching the old one almost exactly in appearance. As part of this work the roof has been re-pointed and re-leaded, along with wider external repairs to a large part of the roof of the Oratory House.

The work required all the books in the library removed and stored safely in archive-safe boxes, and removed to an aircraft hangar for the duration of the project. As part of this they were individually cleaned by specialist conservators, who also removed mould from several volumes.

All of the books have now been restored to their original places in the library, which is complete with a new roof, ensuring their safe storage and use for many years to come.

The Cardinal’s Room

The Cardinal’s Room is where St. John Henry Newman lived, prayed, read, wrote his many thousands of letters, composed his sermons, managed the running of the Oratory, etc., for the last 38 years of his life.

It was also the room in which he slept (each Oratorian has only a single room) until he was made a Cardinal, when his bedchamber was converted into his private chapel.

At this altar he said his daily Mass, overlooked by the many photographs and mementoes of departed friends for whom he prayed each day.

This room has been preserved, untouched, since Newman’s death in 1890. Books, objects, pictures, ornaments – all are as Newman left them on the last day of his mortal life.

Apart from a recently installed dehumidifier (part of the conservation works) the room contains no electricity for lighting or heating. To cross the threshold of the room is to leave behind the twenty-first century and step into the nineteenth.

It is a remarkable room, not only because of its historical interest and importance, but because it is the shrine of a Saint: every object in it constitutes a second-class relic. Its very survival is extraordinary.

Because the room was left untouched for 130 years, the ravages of time have taken their toll. Hence a major part of this building and restoration project has been the conservation of the Cardinal’s Room, without losing any of the original features that make the room unique and give it its extraordinary atmosphere.

This has required very conservative and specialist conservation work: re-plastering, restoring the original wallpaper (damaged by decades of damp), repairing damage to the ceiling, walls and floor, along with conservation of individual objects within the room (the baldacchino above Newman’s altar, for instance).

The Newman Appeal

The Work has cost £1.05 million of which half has been paid by a generous benefactor in the United States.

The Fathers of the Oratory have also made a significant contribution from our own resources.

There is still £316,000 left to raise.

The appeal is based at and donations can be made there, or directly via bank transfer:

Svenska Handelsbanken

Account Name - The Oratory of St. Philip Neri at Birmingham



Or cheque made out to ‘The Oratory’, addressing your envelope to:

The Newman Appeal,

141 Hagley Road,

Birmingham, United Kingdom.

B16 8UE

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