A priceless relic of the patron saint of Ireland’s capital city Dublin will be returned to the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in the city tonight (Thursday), six years after it was stolen. The heart of St Laurence O’Toole – also known as Lorcán Ua Tuathail – was stolen from the cathedral’s Saint Laud Chapel in March 2012. The heart, in a wooden heart-shaped box sealed within a small iron barred cage, had been in the cathedral for 800 years. It was recovered from Dublin’s Pheonix Park after a recent breakthrough in the police investigation, state broadcaster RTE reports. It is in an undamaged condition.
Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy of An Garda Síochána – the Republic of Ireland police service – will present the heart to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, at a service of Choral Evensong at 6.00 pm this evening.
“The return of the heart of Laurence O’Toole to Christ Church Cathedral brings great joy to the people of Dublin as Dubliners,” Archbishop Michael said. “For those of us associated with the life of the dioceses, it brings again to the fore the close relationship between Glendalough and Dublin, a relationship of more than 800 years.
“Laurence left the monastic city of Glendalough of which he was Abbot to become Archbishop of Dublin, hence cementing a vibrant relationship that continues unabated to this day. Our deep thanks and warm appreciation go to all who have worked tirelessly to make this day of restoration possible, particularly the Garda Síochána.”
The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dermot Dunne, expressed his “delight” at the recovery of the relic, saying: I am grateful to the Gardaí for all the work they have done in recovering it. I said at the time it was stolen that the relic has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links the cathedral’s present foundation with its founding father, St Laurence O’Toole.
“It gives joy to my heart that the heart has been returned to the city,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Leahy described tonight’s handover as “a privilege”. He said: “As Assistant Commissioner for Dublin it gives me enormous pleasure to return such a valuable relic to its rightful place among the people of Dublin. It is not very often that we get an opportunity to engage in such a positive activity that affects the citywide community and in that regard I am acutely aware of the privilege that has been bestowed upon An Garda Síochána on this occasion.
“It is appropriate to acknowledge the great work of individual Gardaí who kept their radars on and their minds open in this ongoing investigation and I commend them for their commitment and diligence on this matter. I am personally delighted to return the relic to Christ Church Cathedral where it can again provide a most important and tangible link to our past.”
A potted history of Saint Laurence O’Toole by the education department of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Another relic of St Laurence O’Toole, this one containing his skull, from the Collégiale Notre-Dame et Saint-Laurent, in Eu, Normandy.
Photo: © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Laurence O’Toole is the Patron Saint of Dublin and is closely associated with the early years of Christ Church Cathedral.
His feast day falls on 14 November. He was born at Castledermot, County Kildare, in 1132, the youngest of four sons of Maurice O’Toole, a Leinster chieftain, who was engaged in rivalry with the powerful Mac Murchada family.
When he was 10 years old, Laurence was handed over to Diarmait Mac Murchada as a hostage for his father’s loyalty. When his father was suspected of treachery, Laurence was imprisoned and became very ill. He was eventually rescued and cared for by the Bishop of Glendalough and decided to join the church. He was ordained a priest and became abbot of the monastery at Glendalough at the age of 25. In 1161 he became Archbishop of Dublin and was consecrated the following year at Christ Church Cathedral.
The Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, led by Strongbow, in 1169 resulted in two sieges and a famine in Dublin. Laurence played an important part in defending the city, encouraging his congregation to resist the enemy and helping the wounded. He played an important part in the negotiations when an Anglo-Norman victory became inevitable.
Laurence has traditionally been given credit for the rebuilding of Christ Church in the 1180s, although it is now considered more likely that his successor, Archbishop John Cumin, was responsible.
In 1180, Laurence left Ireland for the last time to travel to Normandy after Henry II, for whom he was a trusted mediator. However, he became ill on arrival and was brought to the Abbey of St Victor at Eu where he died on 14 November 1180. He was made a saint in 1226.
Following Laurence’s canonisation some relics of his were returned to Dublin where they lay in the cathedral’s relic collection until the Reformation. The heart had been on display in the Chapel of St Laud in the cathedral until it was stolen.