Saint's heart stolen in Dublin

Sat, Mar 3, 2012, 00:00

The preserved heart of St Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin, has been stolen from Christ Church Cathedral.

The relic was kept in a wooden heart-shaped container sealed within a small iron-barred cage  in St Laud's chapel in the cathedral. The bars of the cage had been cut.

The heart, which is was believed to have been stolen between 9.30am and 12.30pm today, was last seen last night.

A spokeswoman for the cathedral said it was opened at 9.30am this morning and there was no alarm or sign of any break-in. She said the thieves ignored valuable gold chalices and gold candlesticks in the chapel in favour of the relic. “It’s completely bizarre,” she said. “They didn’t touch anything else. They specifically targeted this, they wanted the heart of St Laurence O’Toole.”

She said the thieves would have needed a metal cutter to prise back the bars that protected the enclosed heart.

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, the Most Reverend Dermot Dunne, said he was “devastated” by the theft. “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father, St Laurence O’Toole.”

Gardaí have been reviewing CCTV footage of people entering the cathedral. There were only about 40 visitors this morning. Church authorities say it is possible the thieves had hidden themselves in the building overnight and broke into the relic after the cathedral closed for the day.

The latest church theft follows two others in recent months. In January, a holy shrine that normally contains a relic of St Brigid was stolen from a church in Killester, north Dublin as worshippers prepared for the patron saint’s feast day.

Last October in Co Tipperary, three ancient relics, believed to be from the cross on which Jesus was crucified, were stolen from Holycross Abbey, near Thurles. They were later returned to the abbey.

Born Lorcán Ua Tuathail in Castledermot, Co Kildare in 1128 and known as Laurence O'Toole, he died November 1180 in Normandy, France. He was elected archbishop of Dublin following the death of Archbishop Gregory in 1162.

He was an ascetic who wore a hairshirt, never ate meat and fasted every Friday, Each Lent he returned to Glendalough, Co Wicklow where he had previously been abbot. While there,  he lived in St Kevin's Cell, a cave over the Upper Lake, for 40 days.

He was canonised in 1225 by Pope Honorius III and his heart was preserved in Christ Church Cathedral since the 13th century.

His skull was brought back to Britain in 1442. His bones were interred at the parish church of Chorley, now called the Church of St Laurence. They disappeared in the Reformation under the rule of Henry VIII.