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His Eminence 
Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman
Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

An engraving of Cardinal Wiseman, published in "Geschichte der Kirche Christi" from Johannes Ibach, Benziger, Switzerland, 1916
Province Westminster
See Westminster
Enthroned 29 September 1850
Reign ended 15 February 1865
Predecessor Inaugural appointment
Successor Henry Edward Manning
Ordination 19 March 1825 (Priest)
Consecration 8 June 1840 (Bishop)
Created Cardinal 30 September 1850
Rank Cardinal priest of Santa Pudenziana [1]
Other Vicar Apostolic of the London District 1849-1850
Personal details
Birth name Nicolás Patricio Esteban Wiseman [2]
Born 2 August 1802(1802-08-02)
Seville, Spain
Died 15 February 1865 (aged 62)
York Place, Portman Square, London, England
Buried Westminster Cathedral
Denomination Roman Catholic Church
Parents James Wiseman and Xaviera Wiseman (née Strange)
Styles of
Nicholas Wiseman
CardinalCoA PioM.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Westminster

Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman (1802–1865) was an English Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who became the first Archbishop of Westminster upon the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850.[3]



Wiseman was born in Seville, the child of Anglo-Irish parents who had settled in Spain for business.[4] On his father's death in 1805, he was brought to Waterford. In 1810, he was sent to Ushaw College, near Durham, where he was educated until the age of sixteen, when he proceeded to the English College in Rome, which had reopened in 1818 after being closed by the Napoleonic Wars for twenty years. He graduated with a doctorate of theology with distinction in 1825, and was ordained priest the following year.

He was appointed vice-rector of the English College in 1827, and rector in 1828, although he was not yet twenty-six years of age. He held this office until 1840. From the first a devoted student and scholar of antiquity, he devoted much time to the examination of Oriental manuscripts in the Vatican library, and a first volume, entitled Horae Syriacae, published in 1827, showed promise as a great scholar.

Pope Leo XII appointed him curator of the Arabic manuscripts in the Vatican, and professor of Oriental languages in the Roman University. His academic life was, however, broken by the pope's command to preach to English residents of Rome. A course of his lectures, On the Connexion between Science and Revealed Religion, attracted much attention. His general thesis was that whereas scientific teaching had repeatedly been thought to disprove Christian doctrine, further investigation has shown that a reconstruction is possible.


Wiseman visited England in 1835-1836, and delivered lectures on the principles and main doctrines of Roman Catholicism in the Sardinian Chapel, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and in the church in Moorfields. The effect of his lectures was considerable. At Edward Bouverie Pusey's request, John Henry Newman reviewed them in the British Critic in December 1836, treating them for the most part with sympathy as a triumph over popular Protestantism. To another critic, who had taken occasion to point out the resemblance between Roman Catholic and pagan ceremonies, Wiseman replied, boldly admitting the likeness, and maintaining that it could be shown equally well to exist between Christian and heathen doctrines.

In 1836, Wiseman founded the Dublin Review, partly to infuse into the lethargic English Roman Catholics higher ideals of their own religion and some enthusiasm for the papacy, and partly to enable him to deal with the progress of the Oxford Movement, in which he was keenly interested. At this date he was already distinguished as an accomplished scholar and critic, able to converse fluently in half-a-dozen languages, and well informed on most questions of scientific, artistic or antiquarian interest.

An article by Wiseman on the Donatist schism, appearing in the Dublin Review in July 1839, made a great impression in Oxford, Newman and others seeing the force of the analogy between Donatists and Anglicans. Preaching at the opening of St Mary's church, Derby, in the same year, anticipated Newman's argument on religious development, published six years later. In 1840, he was consecrated bishop, and was sent to England as coadjutor to Bishop Thomas Walsh, vicar-apostolic of the Central district, and was also appointed president of Oscott College near Birmingham.

Oscott, under his presidency, became a centre for English Roman Catholics. The Oxford converts (1845 and later) added considerably to Wiseman's responsibilities, as many of them found themselves wholly without means, while the old Roman Catholic body looked on the newcomers with distrust. It was by his advice that Newman and his companions spent some time in Rome before undertaking clerical work in England. Shortly after the accession of Pope Pius IX, Bishop Walsh was moved to be vicar-apostolic of the London district with Wiseman still as his coadjutor. For Wiseman, the appointment became permanent on Walsh’s death in February 1849. It is evident that if Walsh had lived two more years, he would have been the first Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and Wiseman the second.

On his arrival from Rome in 1847, Wiseman acted as an informal diplomatic envoy from the pope, to ascertain from the government what support England was likely to give in carrying out the liberal policy with which Pius inaugurated his reign. In response, Lord Minto was sent to Rome as "an authentic organ of the British Government," but the policy in question proved abortive. Residing in London in Golden Square, Wiseman threw himself into his new duties with many-sided activities, working especially for the reclamation of Roman Catholic criminals and for the restoration of the lapsed poor to the practice of their religion. He was zealous for the establishment of religious communities, both of men and women, and for the holding of retreats and missions. He preached on 4 July 1848 at the opening of St George's, Southwark, an occasion unique in England since the Reformation, 14 bishops and 240 priests being present, and six religious orders of men being represented.


Cardinal Wiseman, daguerreotype by Mathew Brady studio

The progress of Roman Catholicism was undeniable, but Wiseman found himself steadily opposed by a minority among his own clergy, who disliked his ultramontane ideas of his "Romanizing and innovating zeal," especially in regard to the introduction of sacred images into the churches and the use of devotions to the Blessed Virgin and the Blessed Sacrament, hitherto unknown among English Roman Catholics. In July 1850, Wiseman heard of the pope's intention to create him a cardinal, and took this to mean that he was to be permanently recalled to Rome. But on his arrival, he ascertained that a part of the pope's plan for restoring a diocesan hierarchy in England was that he himself should return to England as cardinal and archbishop of Westminster. The papal brief establishing the hierarchy was dated 19(?) September 1850, and on 7 October. Wiseman wrote a pastoral, dated "from out of the Flaminian Gate", a form diplomatically correct, but of bombastic tone for Protestant ears, in which he spoke enthusiastically, if also a little pompously, of the "restoration of Catholic England to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament".

Wiseman travelled slowly to England, via Vienna, When he reached London on 11 November, the whole country was ablaze with indignation at the "papal aggression," which was interpreted to imply a new and unjustifiable claim to territorial rule[5]. Some indeed feared that his life was endangered by the violence of popular feeling. Wiseman displayed calmness and courage, and immediately penned a pamphlet of over 30 pages titled Appeal to the English People, in which he explained the nature of the pope's action. He argued that the admitted principle of toleration included leave to establish a diocesan hierarchy. In his concluding paragraphs, he effectively contrasted that dominion over Westminster, which he was taunted with claiming, with his duties towards the poor Roman Catholics resident there, with which alone he was really concerned. A course of lectures at St George's, Southwark, further moderated the storm. In July 1852, he presided at Oscott over the first provincial synod of Westminster, at which Newman preached his sermon on the "Second Spring"; and at this date, Wiseman's dream of the rapid conversion of England to the ancient faith seemed capable of realization. But many difficulties with his own people shortly beset his path, due largely to the suspicions aroused by his evident preference for the ardent Roman zeal of the converts, and especially of Manning, to the dull and cautious formalism of the old Roman Catholics.

The year 1854 was marked by his presence in Rome at the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin 8 December, and by the publication of his historical romance, Fabiola, a tale of the Church of the Catacombs, which had a very wide circulation, being translated into ten languages.

In 1855, Wiseman applied for a coadjutor bishop. George Errington, who was then Bishop of Plymouth, and his friend since boyhood, was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Westminster and Titular Archbishop of Trapezus. Two years later, Manning was appointed Provost of Westminster. Wiseman's later years were darkened by Errington's hostility to Manning, and to himself insofar as he was supposed to be acting under Manning's influence. The story of the estrangement, which was largely a matter of temperament, is fully told in Ward's biography. In July 1860 Errington was deprived by the Pope of his coadjutorship with right of succession. He retired to Prior Park, near Bath, where he died in 1886.

His speeches, sermons and lectures, delivered during his tour, were printed in a volume of 400 pages, showing an extraordinary power of rising to the occasion and of speaking with sympathy and tact. Wiseman was able to use considerable influence with English politicians, partly because in his day, English Roman Catholics were wavering in their historical allegiance to the Liberal party. As the director of votes thus doubtful, he was in a position to secure concessions that bettered the position of Roman Catholics in regard to poor schools, reformatories and workhouses, and in the status of their army chaplains. In 1863, addressing the Roman Catholic Congress at Mechelen, he stated that since 1830, the number of priests in England had increased from 434 to 1242, and of convents of women from 16 to 162, while there were 55 religious houses of men in 1863 and none in 1830. The last two years of his life were troubled by illness and by controversies in which he found himself, under Manning's influence, compelled to adopt a policy less liberal than that which had been his in earlier years.

Birthplace of Cardinal Wiseman, 5 Calle Fabiola, Seville, Spain

Wiseman had to condemn the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom, with which he had shown some sympathy in its inception in 1857; and to forbid Roman Catholic parents to send their sons to Oxford or Cambridge, though at an earlier date, he had hoped (with Newman) that at Oxford at least a college or hall might be assigned to them, but in other respects, his last years were cheered by marks of general regard and admiration, in which non-Roman Catholics joined. After his death on 16 February 1865, there was an extraordinary demonstration of popular respect as his body was taken from St Mary's, Moorfields, to the cemetery at Kensal Green, where it was intended that it should rest only until a more fitting place could be found in a Roman Catholic cathedral church of Westminster. On 30 January 1907, the body was removed with great ceremony from Kensal Green and was reburied in the crypt of the new cathedral, where it lies beneath a Gothic altar tomb, with a recumbent effigy of the archbishop in full pontificals.

Wiseman's birthplace on Calle Fabiola in Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter of Seville, carries a commemorative plaque; as does Etloe House in Leyton, London E10 where he lived from 1858 to 1864.

Further reading


Several schools have been named after Cardinal Wiseman, including:

  • The Cardinal Wiseman Roman Catholic School, a high school located in Greenford, West London. It was opened in 1959 as a special agreement school catering for 456 boys and girls aged 11–15 years. Since then the school has been reorganised several times.


  1. ^ "Cardinal-Priest of S. Pudenziana". Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  2. ^ "Nicholas Patrick Stephen (Nicolás Patricio Esteban) Cardinal Wiseman". Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  3. ^ Miranda, Salvador. "Nicholas Wiseman". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  4. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia article on Nicholas Patrick Wiseman
  5. ^ Diamond, Michael (2003). Victorian Sensation. Anthem Press. pp. 83–87. ISBN 1-84331-150-X. 
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Inaugural appointment
Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of the Central District
Succeeded by
Last appointment
Preceded by
Pro-Vicar Apostolic of the London District
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Thomas Griffiths
Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of the London District
Succeeded by
Last appointment
Preceded by
Thomas Walsh
Vicar Apostolic of the London District
Succeeded by
Last appointment
Preceded by
Inaugural appointment
Archbishop of Westminster
Succeeded by
Henry Edward Manning


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