Thursday 17 October 2019

Thieves steal preserved heart of St Laurence O'Toole

Don Lavery

THE 12th-Century preserved heart of of the patron saint of Dublin, St Laurence O'Toole, was stolen from Christ Church Cathedral yesterday.

Shocked staff at the cathedral discovered the theft yesterday and said they were "absolutely devastated".

Gardai are now hunting for the missing relic.

"It has been a major site of pilgrimage and a major tourist attraction," said Nuala Kavanagh, director of operations at the cathedral.

The heart -- which has been in the cathedral for 800 years -- was kept in a wooden container sealed within a small iron-barred case.

It is understood three security guards were on duty and CCTV footage was being examined by gardai last night.

Gardai said they believed the theft from Saint Laud's Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral happened sometime between Friday evening and 12.30pm yesterday.

The small iron-barred case was forced open by the thieves who left it behind and escaped with the saint's heart.

No alarms were activated and there was no sign of a break-in at the cathedral when it was opened at 9.30am yesterday.

Staff said they had never seen the heart, which is kept in the wooden heart-shaped container, which is itself sealed within the iron case.

The one-time archbishop St Laurence O'Toole, born Lorcan Ua Tuathail in Castledermot, County Kildare, in 1128 and who became known as Laurence O'Toole, died in November 1180 in Normandy, France.

Staff said O'Toole was known as an ascetic. He wore a hairshirt, never ate meat and fasted every Friday on bread and water.

When he entertained, his guests lacked for nothing while he coloured his water to look like wine so as not to spoil the feast. Each Lent he went to Glendalough where he lived in St Kevin's Cell, a sort of cave over the Upper Lake, for 40 days.

Due to the number of miracles that occurred at his tomb, he was canonised in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

In 1442, his skull was brought back to Britain by Rowland Standish (a relative of Captain Myles Standish, the British military adviser to the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony arriving off the Mayflower) who fought at Agincourt. His bones were interred at the Parish Church of Chorley, now called the Church of St Laurence.

However, the bones disappeared in the Reformation under Henry VIII's rule.

His heart has been preserved in Christ Church Cathedral since the 13th Century and has been a major pilgrimage site since the medieval period.

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, the Most Reverend Dermot Dunne, said: "I am devastated that one of the treasured artefacts of the cathedral is stolen.

"It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father, St Laurence O'Toole."

Staff at the cathedral appealed to the thieves to return the relic.

Gardai said they wished to speak to anyone who may have visited Saint Laud's Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral between Friday evening and 12.30pm yesterday and may have seen anything suspicious to contact them at Kevin Street garda station at 01- 6669400.

Sunday Independent

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