26 April 2018, The Tablet

Heart of St Laurence O'Toole returned to Dublin cathedral

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The saint's heart, stolen in 2012, was recovered by the Gardaí and an investigation into its theft is ongoing


Heart of St Laurence O'Toole returned to Dublin cathedral

The heart of St Laurence O’Toole (1132-1180), patron of Dublin, has been returned to Christ Church Cathedral, from where it was stolen in 2012, at a formal handover ceremony during Choral Evensong. The priceless relic, which was lost for six years, was recovered by the Gardaí undamaged and an investigation into its theft is ongoing.

The preserved heart had been on display in a wooden heart-shaped box sealed within a small iron barred cage on the wall of St Laud’s Chapel in the Church of Ireland cathedral until it was stolen.

The 800-year-old heart was presented by Assistant Commissioner of An Garda Síochána Pat Leahy to the Church of Ireland Primate of Ireland, Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Glendalough.

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Very Rev Dermot Dunne said he was delighted that the relic had been recovered.

Following the theft, security at the cathedral was reviewed and regular security reviews continue.

Back in 2012, Dean Dunne appealed to the person who stole the relic to return it and he said no questions would be asked. He said today he is happy to let the Gardaí continue their investigations.

The Dean also indicated that a shrine to St Laurence will be instituted so that the people of Dublin can come to the cathedral to honour the memory of the city’s patron saint.

“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,” Dean Dunne said.

Speaking ahead of welcoming the ancient relic back to its resting place, Archbishop Jackson said its recovery brought “great joy to the people of Dublin as Dubliners”.

He highlighted how St Laurence had left the monastic city of Glendalough of which he was Abbot to become Archbishop of Dublin in the 12th century. That had cemented a close and vibrant relationship between Glendalough and Dublin that “continues unabated to this day,” he stated.

Dr Jackson paid tribute to the tireless work of the Gardaí who had made “this day of restoration possible”.

Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy said he was “personally delighted to return the relic to Christ Church Cathedral where it can again provide a most important and tangible link to our past.”

St Laurence O’Toole was born at Castledermot, County Kildare, in 1132, the youngest of four sons of Maurice O’Toole, a Leinster chieftain.

Rivalry between his father and other chieftains resulted in Laurence being captured and imprisoned and during this time he became very ill. He was eventually rescued and cared for by the Bishop of Glendalough and he then 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.

He played an important role in rallying the people and tending the wounded of the city during the Anglo–Norman invasion of Ireland which resulted in two sieges and a famine in Dublin. He also played a prominent role in mediating between the parties during and after the invasion and in the Irish Church Reform Movement of the 12th century.

St 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, the future saint 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 canonised in 1226 by Pope Honorius III.

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.

Pic: The heart of St Laurence O’Toole, credit Christ Church Cathedral

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