Relics from Cardinal Newman's grave go on show

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Interest in Britain's first potential saint for 300 years yesterday was only a dribble which turned into a trickle, but advocates for Cardinal Henry Newman weren't dismayed. "It takes a very long time to make a saint," said Peter Jennings of Birmingham diocese, as another handful of the devout or curious drifted into the city's Oratory to examine the latest stage in a 30-year campaign.

Displayed to the public for the first time this weekend in a gold and glass reliquary, bought by the oratory a fortnight ago in New York, a silver thimbleful of soil from suburban Birmingham stood beside a scrap of stained linen and several wispy coils of grey hair. These are the First Class Relics from the Cardinal's grave, which join a list of other requirements - from a Decree on Heroic Virtues to 943 pages of Evidence of Holiness - for the Pope to award the ultimate honour to the 19th century divine.

Newman is a towering figure for British Catholics, a convert from the Church of England whose upright life and inspirational hymns - including Lead, Kindly Light and Praise To The Holiest In The Height, galvanised the Catholic "second spring". But his path to sainthood has been strewn with obstacles, from failure to prove miraculous cures of ulcers to demands by gay campaigners that his body be left in peace in a grave shared - at Newman's express wish - with his lifelong friend, Rev Ambrose St John. Newman's sexuality has never been disclosed.

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