Page last updated at 18:56 GMT, Saturday, 4 October 2008 19:56 UK

No body in exhumed Newman's grave

Cardinal John Henry Newman
Newman's remains are thought to have decomposed

The grave of the 19th Century Cardinal John Henry Newman did not contain his body, the Catholic Church has revealed.

The plot, at the Oratory House, Rednal, near Birmingham, was excavated on Thursday at the Vatican's request.

His remains were to have been moved to the Birmingham Oratory, in preparation for Newman's anticipated beatification.

Newman's body may have decomposed, as his coffin was not lead-lined. Its absence will not affect the progress of his cause in Rome, a spokesman said.

Permission for the exhumation was given by the Ministry of Justice, said Peter Jennings from the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory.

Burial in a wooden coffin in a very damp site makes this kind of total decomposition of the body unsurprising

Peter Jennings

In a statement released on Saturday, he said: "Brass, wooden and cloth artefacts from Cardinal Newman's coffin were found.

"However there were no remains of the body of John Henry Newman.

"An expectation that Cardinal Newman had been buried in a lead-lined coffin proved to be unfounded.

"In the view of the medical and health professionals in attendance, burial in a wooden coffin in a very damp site make