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Death, Burial, and the Afterlife

Dublin Death Studies


Edited By Philip Cottrell and Wolfgang Marx

The essays incorporated into this volume share an ambitious interest in investigating death as an individual, social and metaphorical phenomenon that may be exemplified by themes involving burial rituals, identity, and commemoration. The disciplines represented are as diverse as art history, classics, history, music, languages and literatures, and the approaches taken reflect various aspects of contemporary death studies. These include the fear of death, the role of death in shaping human identity, the ‘taming’ of death through ritual or aesthetic sublimation, and the utilization of death – particularly dead bodies – to manipulate social and political ends.

The topics covered include the exhumation and reburial of Cardinal John Henry Newman;the funerary monument of John Donne in his shroud; the funeral of Joseph Stalin; the theme of mutilation and non-burial of the corpse in Homer’s Iliad; the individual’s encounter with death in the work of the German Philosopher Josef Pieper; the Requiem by the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford; the imagery of death in Giovanni Verga’s novel Mastro-don Gesualdo, and the changing attitudes toward death in the writings of Michel Foucault.

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1 | Empty Tombs and Apparitions: A Reflection on the Theological Significance of the Exhumation of the Remains of John Henry Newman.

1 | Empty Tombs and Apparitions: a Reflection on the Theological Significance of the Exhumation of the Remains of John Henry Newman1


Pádraic Conway

To begin a consideration of the theological significance of the exhumation of the remains of John Henry Newman (fig. 1.1), one could do worse than reflect on the following passage from The Sunday Times of October 5, 2008:

The grave of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801 – 1890) was excavated with the utmost care on Thursday 2 October 2008, Feast of the Guardian Angels. During the excavation the brass inscription plate which had been on the wooden coffin in which Cardinal Newman had rested was recovered from his grave. It reads (in English translation): 'The Most Eminent and Most Reverend John Henry Newman Cardinal Deacon of St George in Velabro Died 11 August 1890 RIP'. Brass, wooden and cloth artefacts from Cardinal Newman's coffin were found. However there were no remains of the body of John Henry Newman.

The sense of shock at this non-discovery was conveyed in their own distinct way by the scions of Lord Rothermere in a headline of the 4th of November 2008: ‘Did prudish Victorians refuse to bury Britain's next saint alongside his male friend – because they feared he was gay?’. The ‘male friend’ in question was Newman’s Oratory confrere, Fr Ambrose St John, who had pre-deceased him in 1875 and Newman had indeed made a very specific request to be buried in the same grave as Ambrose. Alan Bray’s book The Friend, which was published in 2003, describes in overtly theological terms the...

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