14th April 2019

Vestments belonging to Cardinal John Henry Newman are set to become the unexpected star attraction at Abbotsford when the home of Sir Walter Scott reopens on Friday March 1, after the Pope gave final approval this week for the churchman’s canonisation.

The vestments are on show in Abbotsford's Catholic chapel

Cardinal Newman, who will be the first British saint since 1976, had a life-long association with Scott and his descendants, gifting the family the exquisite vestment robes he had worn while celebrating mass at Abbotsford, which is in the Scottish Borders, between Melrose & Galashiels.

A fan of Scott’s books as a child, Cardinal Newman became a close friend of James Hope while a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and by a happy coincidence, Hope went on to marry Sir Walter’s granddaughter Charlotte in 1847. The Cardinal visited Abbotsford for the first time in 1852 and secondly, and more importantly, in the summer of 1872, when he stayed for two months. During this time he was influential in winning many converts to the Catholic faith and, with James Hope Scott, paved the way for the foundation of several Catholic churches in the Scottish Borders.

The vestment robes were gifted by Cardinal Newman to Mary Monica, daughter of James and Charlotte, who had become a close friend of the Cardinal. One of the robes is believed to include a 16th-century tapestry panel which has been mounted on to 18th-century silk, while the other is a peerless example of 19th-century vestment clothing. They are now displayed in the Abbotsford chapel where the Cardinal celebrated mass with the family.

Giles Ingram, Chief Executive at Abbotsford, said: “Cardinal Newman’s vestments went on display in our chapel when the house was reopened in 2013. Pope Benedict XVI had inspected them on his visit to Edinburgh in 2010, the year that the Cardinal’s beatification was declared, and they took on the status of second-class holy relics. However, the detailed embroidery is a wonderful work of craftsmanship in its own right.

“The news this week that Cardinal Newman is now to be made a saint has rekindled interest in the vestments, and we have already had calls from visitors who want to come to see them.

“Cardinal Newman’s first stay at Abbotsford was during a torrid time in his life, when he was being sued for libel, and we like to think he found solace here, in the same way that Scott used to, calling the house his sanctuary, a feature which today’s guests who stay in the Hope Scott Wing, where the Cardinal would have stayed, still enjoy.”