Was Oscar Wilde a Catholic?

by KathleenDuffy

Opinions differ as to whether Victorian writer, Oscar Wilde, converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.

Oscar Wilde is often quoted as saying to his friends, "Catholicism is the only religion to die in.” But the question still remains as to whether this renowned writer converted to Catholicism at the very end of his life.

When Wilde died in Paris on 30th November 1900, the Rev. Dunne, a Roman Catholic priest, was with him. Dunne states in his report that he baptised Wilde and gave him the Last Sacraments, believing that Wilde was "inwardly conscious," understanding what was happening to him and agreeing with it.

Did Oscar Wilde Convert to Catholicism on his Deathbed?

Opinion is divided...

There was another person present at Wilde’s deathbed – his lifetime Catholic friend Robert Ross. Ross had kept his promise to Wilde and had brought a Catholic priest to his deathbed. Later Ross admitted feeling guilty because he had dissuaded Wilde from becoming a Catholic on many occasions. He revealed that he was afraid of the scandal that would ensue should Wilde become a Catholic and then revert back to his gay lifestyle.

However, Richard Ellman in his biography of Wilde [1] is less convinced than Dunne of the significance of Wilde’s conversion, referring to the application of sacred oils as a symbolic affirmation of Wilde’s religious tendencies – like "putting a green carnation in his buttonhole". 

Oxford University,All Souls College
Oxford University,All Souls College

Wilde’s attraction to the Catholic Church was a worry to his Protestant father. He threatened to disinherit him if he converted and hoped that by sending Wilde to Oxford — which at the time, did not admit Catholics to the university — his attraction to Catholicism would be squashed.

But it was not to be. Wilde’s room was full of photographs of Cardinal Manning and Pope Pius IX, and Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ was his nightly reading.

It is impossible to know for sure whether Wilde did convert to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed. But there is little doubt that he seriously considered "going over" and converting to Catholicism on a number of occasions during his lifetime.

The Brompton Oratory, Kensington
The Brompton Oratory, Kensington

Wilde regularly visited Brompton Oratory, London's fashionable Catholic church, and was invited to be received into the Catholic faith. At the last moment he declined, sending instead a box of white lilies.

After his libel/sodomy trial and before leaving England, Wilde went again to the Brompton Oratory. However, his usual priest was away so Wilde failed once again to discuss conversion.

Oscar Wilde and the Jesuits

 During his trial Wilde told his lover, Alfred Lord Douglas, that as soon as the trial was over and he was released he would convert to Catholicism. Instead he was jailed.

But this humiliating experience didn't seem to quell Oscar's spiritual leanings.  In jail he read Dante, The Bible and the Life of St Francis.

After two years of hard labour, Wilde was released.  Shortly after, he wrote to a Jesuit retreat house requesting help of some sort. The letter has not survived. However, on receipt of a response Wilde broke down and cried in the presence of friends.

Whatever his request, it had been refused.

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Oscar Wilde and Pope Leo XIII

During his years of Parisian exile Wilde attended Mass and visited Rome. He claimed that on his first visit to Rome he had been given a ticket to see the Pope by a complete stranger, or as Oscar said,  'an angel', whilst taking tea in the Hotel de l'Europe.

He was blessed by Pope Leo XIII on numerous occasions, crediting the Holy Father with curing him of food poisoning.

Was Oscar Wilde Already Baptised A Catholic?

 Whether Oscar Wilde converted on his deathbed may be an irrelevance.  This is because  Wilde’s mother, Jane, an atheist, a poet and radical believer in the cause of Irish nationalism, had apparently arranged his baptism at the age of four or five by Rev. L.C. Fox of Dublin.  This was  to spite Oscar's father.  So where are the records?  Ah, well, because it was done privately, it was never registered. Is this true?   We shall  probably never know.

What we can be sure about is that Oscar Wilde was obviously deeply attracted to the Catholic Church, loving the liturgy and the artistic aesthetics of Church life.

Whether he was a convert to Catholicism or not, Christian imagery is arguably evident in many of his works, particularly The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many of his beautiful short stories such as The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant.


  • [1] Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman (Hamish Hamilton, 1987)
  • Catholic Education Resource Centre on line

Copyright: K Duffy

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Updated: 02/23/2014, KathleenDuffy
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KathleenDuffy on 03/15/2013


WiseFool on 03/15/2013

Well, that told me.

frankbeswick on 03/15/2013

Wilde's attraction to Catholicism was from early on in life, long before his bisexual nature led him into a homosexual relationship. In deciding whether Wilde was genuinely Catholic we have to take the evidence of people who were present when he died. These people include the priest and his friend. The opinion of Wilde's biographer is not evidence, as he was not present at the death. I think that Wilde died Catholic.

Speculation as to his motive for turning Catholic is pointless. We cannot know what was going through Wilde's mind at any time, unless he chose to reveal it, which he did not.

KathleenDuffy on 03/15/2013

It's difficult to say isn't it. With his sensitive nature I imagine the beauty and serenity of Catholicism and the comfort of the ritual must have been very appealing.

WiseFool on 03/15/2013

Very interesting read, Kathleen. I can't help but wonder whether part of the attraction to Catholicism was fear over what would happen to him in the hereafter, due to his sexuality. In a world where being gay was seen as so profoundly wrong, maybe he felt that the Catholic church could 'cure' him or, at the very least, provide forgiveness.

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