POPE Benedict XVI is set to come to Oxford next year, with the historic visit timed to mark the beatification of the great Oxford churchman Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Pope Benedict would become the first Pontiff in history to visit Oxford, with the provisional itinerary of the UK visit understood to also include London, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown extended an invitation during an audience with the Pope in February.

And senior Catholics believe the Pope’s admiration for Newman means he will seek to visit places associated with the revered Catholic thinker, who had earlier been vicar of the Oxford University Church of St Mary the Virgin in the High Street.

Beatification is effectively the final rung on the ladder to sainthood. And while the beatification is expected to take place in Birmingham, where Newman founded his Oratory, the Pope may visit a number of places in Oxford where the charismatic churchman, lived and worked.

The visit would bring tens of thousands of visitors to the city, with the visit likely to overshadow even the visit of Pope John Paul II to the UK in 1982.

Government sources leaked documents about the proposed tour last week, with Oxford featured in the draft itinerary.

Peter Jennings, press secretary to the Archdiocese of Birmingham, which covers much of Oxfordshire, said: “Pope Benedict XVI has a life-long interest in John Henry Newman. Given Cardinal Newman’s strong links to Oxford, I would say a Papal visit to the city is very likely.”

Cardinal Newman fam-ously converted from the Church of England to Catholicism.

Born in 1801, he was accepted at Trinity College, Oxford, aged 15. Having failed to get a first-class degree, he took holy orders in the Church of England and was, for a time, a curate at St Clement’s before being awarded a fellowship at Oriel College.

There he found others who shared his belief that the Church of England had lost its way in leading the nation. What became known as the Oxford Movement arose out of Newman's deliberations in the late 1820s and early 1830s.

In 1842, with a small group of followers, he moved from St Mary’s to its small sister church in Littlemore, where he converted some abandoned stables into a ‘college’.

Three years later, he took the decision to become a Roman Catholic, a shattering blow that reverberated across England, described by Gladstone as an event of “calamitous importance”.

He died in Birmingham in 1890, aged 89.

Deacon John Sullivan, 70, who will visit Oxford in November, claims he was cured of crippling back pain after praying to Newman.

Mr Sullivan later claimed he had decided to pray for the intercession of Newman after watching Father Ian Ker, a Burford priest and expert on Newman, being interviewed about the cardinal on television the previous year.

Mr Sullivan claims he had been able to walk and had become completely free of pain after the prayer. Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way for the beatification of Cardinal Newman in July after he recognised the cure as a miracle.