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Abbey celebrates gift of new holy relic

The priests in Holycross Abbey in Thurles, Co Tipperary, are celebrating a minor miracle after they were gifted a hitherto long-forgotten piece of the True Cross almost three months after their own relic, which was in their possession for over 900 years, was mysteriously stolen in a break-in at the Abbey.

In the early 1960s, whilst Holycross Abbey was undergoing extensive refurbishments, the 12-inch tall relic of the True Cross was moved to the Ursuline Convent in Cork City for safety.

After the works were completed, as a gesture of goodwill the then Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Reverend Thomas Morris, gave a piece of the relic to the convent.

Now, as a gesture of solidarity, the Ursuline Convent has donated their portion of the True Cross to the Abbey.

"I have been hoping and praying, as has the community, and we have been saying a few extra prayers over Christmas," says Holycross parish priest Fr Tom Breen. "I cannot put into words what this means for the people here and all the people who come to worship here. We would hope to have Holycross Abbey re-united with the relic of the True Cross within the next month or so."

He added: "Unfortunately, we will have to reassess how we display the relics in light of what has happened, something we did not wish to do, but it is something which may be necessary because of the times we live in."

The relic of True Cross is one of the rarest Christian antiquities in the world and was owned by the early crusader monarchs in Jerusalem.

Broadford, Co Limerick, historian and publican Seamus O Suilleabhain takes up the intriguing story: "Among the treasures of the English crown was a portion of the True Cross and it is believed by many that this relic was a gift of Godfrey of Boulogne [of France]. Godfrey and his brother Baldwin were successive Kings of Jerusalem and uncles of the English queen, Matilda. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, in 1233 Pierce the Fair, who was Matilda's son and half brother of Henry III of England, was killed in Ireland by local Irish, who were up in arms against the Norman invaders, and buried in a dense wood two miles from Holycross Monastery.

"Two years later an old monk in the abbey had a vision about the body in the wood. They found Pierse the Fair and he was later reburied in the monastery with full honours. As a thank you, the True Cross relic was the English crown's gift to be bestowed on the Irish monastery."

In 1801, it found its way to the Ursuline Convent in Cork and the nuns had it in their possession until 1966 when Holycross Abbey was restored and they presented it to them.

However, in October two masked intruders entered the abbey and used an angle grinder to break into a steel-framed glass display case which housed the relic.

Sunday Independent