by Christopher Howse
SIR ALEC Guinness was surrounded by an audience of 52 saints when he read a 100 year old sermon in Oxford on Sunday. The carved saints of St Aloysius's church formed a backcloth as the star of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy spoke out the words that Cardinal Newman delivered from the same spot in May 1880.
It was all part of the weekend celebrations to commerwprate Newman's return to Oxford. Newman had recently been made a Cardinal when his old college Trinity invited him back to a Gaudy dinner in May 1880. Last Friday Trinity's hall was crowded with diners remembering their old chaplain.
The three-day jamboree was organised by the Friends of Cardinal Newman. Some undergraduates had been roped in to show tourists around 'Newman's Oxford', including the bronze bust in Trinity gardens, specially scrubbed clean of its shroud of guano for the occasion.
The Catholic Chaplaincy mounted a photographic exhibition in its Newman rooms. The Newman Society is in fact older than the chaplaincy itself. The hierarchy did not allow Catholics to become members of the university until the 1890's. but in the previous decade there were exceptions and an early meeting of the Newman Society clocked up 17 Catholics, including 'Acton from Magdalen' — the son of Lord Acton, the historian.
On Saturday evening, the vast mosaiced gothic vault of Keble College echoed to the sound of hymns by Newman and Keble himself, Newman's early companion in the development of the Oxford Movement. Keble, of course, stayed in the Church of England and founded his corridored college for clergymen's sons with brickwork by Butterfield patterned like a Fair Isle pullover. When Newman preached at St Aloysius's it had only just been built. Gerard Manley I lopkins, the Jesuit poet, stayed there too. A Balliol man, he was received into the church by Newman.
The festival ended with a performance of Elgar's setting of Newman's Dream of Gerontius by the St Bartholomew's Hospital Music Society in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin where Newman was vicar before his conversion.