On October 13 this year it was announced that Cardinal John Henry Newman had been canonised (recognised as being a Saint) in Rome, but who would have thought that he once had a connection to Upper Beeding?
Newman was a great friend of John Rouse Bloxam, a former Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Vicar of Beeding from 1862 until his death in 1891.
The two men met at Littlemore in Oxfordshire, when Newman’s newly built chapel was consecrated in 1836, and they instantly struck up a friendship that was to last for the rest of their lives.
Bloxam was Newman’s curate at Littlemore from 1837 to 1840 and both men were part of the Oxford Movement that favoured the return of some Catholic beliefs and liturgical rituals to the Church of England.
With Newman’s consent, Bloxam put this into practice at Littlemore.
This was greeted with horror and accusations of ‘popery’ by some members of the Church of England and Bloxam decided to leave Littlemore and return to his studies at Magdalen College.
In 1845, Newman, however, went over to the Catholic Church, and tried on several occasions to persuade his friend to follow him.
Bloxam always demurred, but the two men still remained friends.
In 1862, Bloxam retired to Upper Beeding where in the vicarage, known as the Priory of Sele, he received visits from Newman who would stay in a room that was kept in readiness for him.
On May 12, 1879, in Rome, Newman was made a Cardinal and on July 2, Bloxam wrote to a Mr Mackray: “Cardinal Newman came unexpectedly to lunch with us.
He had crossed over to Folkestone on Friday, came to Brighton on Saturday, rested on Sunday, telegraphed us Monday morning and soon after arrived at Beeding Priory with his secretary, Father Neville.
“After resting, he walked about my garden and then went to the Cardinal’s room where his portrait by Richmond is hanging, to wash his hands before luncheon, which he evidently enjoyed, tasting our Southdown mutton as a great treat.
“I sent them down to the [Bramber] station for the London train between 2 and 3, feeling most gratified and honoured by the visit, for I suppose that I have been the first of his old friends to greet him on his return.”
Bloxam paid visits to Newman at the Oratory in Birmingham and they corresponded frequently.
When the Cardinal was ill in 1888, Father Neville regularly telegraphed Bloxam with his progress.
On Newman’s death on August 11, 1890, the news was carried at once to the Priory, so that Bloxam might be among the first to hear of it.
Bloxam wrote to a Mr Couzens: “I am overwhelmed with letters of sympathy and condolence on the loss of my dear old friend, Cardinal Newman, and some thoughtful friends have sent me copies of newspapers with biographical details of him.
“Our Church Bell was tolled on the Tuesday and will be so again on the day of the funeral, and in the services tomorrow we shall have ‘Lead Kindly Light’ and other appropriate hymns.”
Bloxam was too ill himself to attend his friend’s funeral and died at Sele Priory only five months later.
At his funeral, the hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light’ written by John Henry Newman, was sung.