A PIECE of the cross on which Jesus Christ was said to have been crucified is returning to an ancient abbey -- months after a larger version of the same holy relic was stolen from it.
The Holy Cross Abbey in Thurles, Co Tipperary, will soon be reunited with a portion of the relic of the 'True Cross', which it originally donated to the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock, Cork, in the 1970s to thank the nuns there for safeguarding the cross during restorations.
But now the portion is all that remains after callous thieves armed with a hammer, screwdriver and angle grinder stole the gold and bronze 'True Cross' from its steel enclosure in the 12th Century monastery in October.
The cross has been a mecca for pilgrims for the past 900 years after Pope Paschal II gave it to the O'Brien Kings of Thomond for their support of the Catholic Church.
Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Dermot Clifford said the relic has little material value but holds huge spiritual and historical significance to the faithful.
"Holy Cross Abbey will never be the same again unless and until the relic is returned," he said following the theft that outraged worshippers.
But thanks to the generosity of the nuns, a piece of the cross will be returning to its home in the abbey within the next month, parish priest Fr Tom Breen confirmed yesterday.
"I cannot put into words what this means to the people here and to all those who come and worship here'' he said.
Gardai in Thurles are still investigating the theft in which the raiders also took a 14th-Century holy silver cross.
Three sets of keys were stolen from the church in the weeks before the thefts.
Catholics have been venerating relics since the 4th Century when three crosses were found at the hill where Christ was crucified.
One of the three crosses was believed to be holy after a sick man who touched it was cured of his illness.
The cross was divided into hundreds of smaller relics that were sent to monasteries across Europe.