|Pictorial Lives of the Saints (1878)
November 14 is the commemoration of a twelfth-century saint, Laurence (Lorcán) O'Toole, whose life and career I have only recently begun to research. It seems that there is much to unpack as he has a European dimension and also played a part in both ecclesiastical and secular politics. Unlike the vast majority of the Irish saints who feature in this blog, Saint Laurence was one of the very few to have gone through the official canonisation process, having been canonised by Pope Honorius III on December 11, 1225. The year 1880 marked the seventh hundred anniversary of the death of Saint Laurence in Eu in Normandy and below is an address delivered to mark the occasion by the then Bishop of Ossory, the future Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran. In his homily the Bishop presents a stirring account of Saint Laurence as a heroic and patriotic figure, standing up to arrogant Normans, treacherous Irish leaders and English kings alike in defence of the rights of the Church. He is shown as someone who can give the English saint, Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas à Becket), whose contemporary Laurence was, a run for his money. Interestingly, Pádraig O'Riain's entry for Saint Laurence in his Dictionary of Irish Saints points to the silence of the Irish sources on his career. The Annals of Ulster mistakenly attribute martyrdom to Lorcán whilst the Annals of Clonmacnoise report his death as having taken place in England. No other Irish Annals record his death and the sole annalistic mention of Saint Laurence during his lifetime comes again from the Annals of Clonmacnoise which notes his presence at the Synod of Clonfert. The only major Irish calendar to record the feast of Saint Laurence is the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal which notes:
14. C. DECIMO OCTAVO KAL. DECEMBRIS. 14.
LABHRAS, Archbishop of Ath-cliath. Lorcan O Tuathail was his first name. He was of the race of Cathaoir Mór.
I hope to return to the interesting life and times of Saint Laurence in future posts and wish all those who today are celebrating in both the Archdiocese of Dublin and in France the blessings of the feast. Below is how they did it in 1880 with all the triumphalism and patriotic fervour of the national revival:
ON Sunday, November 14th, 1880, the Seventh Centenary of the festival of St. Laurence O'Toole, was celebrated, with fitting ceremonial, and all due solemnity, in the Pro-Cathedral, Marlboro'-street, Dublin. The panegyric of the Saint was preached on the occasion by the learned Bishop of Ossory. Although we do not regard sermons, as a rule, suitable matter for publication in the Record, still, owing to its historical interest, we have determined to give such selections from this sermon as will suffice to illustrate the different phases of the eventful career of St. Laurence.
Our first selection regards the birth, parentage, and early life of the Saint:
"St. Laurence O'Toole was born about the year, 1125. His father was chieftain of the Hy-Murray territory, which embraced all those fertile and picturesque districts now comprised in the southern half of the County Kildare. St. Bridget was the patron of the family, and her protecting mantle, and her blessing, were in a particular manner extended to the whole of that rich territory. The infant was sent to St. Bridget's shrine at Kildare to receive the waters of Baptism. Many signs and wonders foreshadowed his future greatness. The holy man who baptized him gave him the name of Lorcan, that is to say, one valiant and renowned, foretelling at the same time, that he would one day be magnified on earth and glorified in heaven. From his early years St. Laurence was trained in the school of adversity. He was given as a hostage to Dermod MacMurrough, King of Leinster, who threw him into a dreary dungeon and subjected him to the greatest hardships."
"From the fortress of Dermod, St. Laurence in his twelfth year passed to the monastery of Glendalough, and within its hallowed walls he every day advanced in piety as in years. It would seem as if nature itself had destined the singularly interesting valley of Glendalough, to be a tranquil retreat for religious seclusion and for prayer. The high mountains that arise to the North and West and South, present impassable barriers against the intrusion of the world on its solitude. Towards the East alone the valley expands to welcome the first rays of the rising sun. The still waters of its lakes mirror the glory of the Creator, and the varied beauty of nature and the grandeur of the surrounding scenery raise up the mind to the contemplation of heavenly things. No wonder that as far back as the sixth century St. Kevin and so many other saints should have loved to dwell there. No wonder that it should be known to our early Fathers as the valley of God, the Rome of the isles of the west. Glendalough has long lain desolate. To the sight-seeing visitor of the present day it looks little better than a dreary and deserted solitude. And yet who is there not dead to the spiritual life, whose piety will not grow warm as he meditates amid its ruins. What must it have been when the lamp of Faith shone brightly before its shrines, when the spirit of God dwelt there, and the incense of prayer ascended from its altars, and its cloisters resounded with the joyous anthems of piety, and its hills echoed to the praises of God. The affections of the youthful Laurence were at once fixed on that hallowed spot, and full of joy he chose it for his lasting dwelling place. His father would wish to have lots cast to see which of his sons he would devote to the service of God. But Laurence would allow no such hazard to decide his choice. My resolution is already formed, he said, the voice of God calls me to serve Him, and it is my only desire to abide here in His holy love. For twenty years Glendalough was the constant abode of our Saint. As student and religious, and priest and abbot, he lived there, advancing from virtue to virtue, till he attained the sublimest perfection of the Saints."
But St. Laurence was not destined to end his days in the "rocky, wild retreat" of Glendalough. In 1162 he was appointed to succeed Greine, or Gregory, the Danish Archbishop of Dublin. The following extract tells how zealously, and with what happy results, he laboured in the discharge of his episcopal duties:
"Thus St. Laurence was a great saint. But he was also a great and illustrious prelate of the Church, full of zeal for the cause of God, and for the interests of all who were entrusted to his care. In season and out of season he laboured to remedy abuses, to promote peace, to strengthen the bonds of charity, to heal the wounds of past disorders, to revive piety and renew the ancient splendour of Ireland's sanctity. He convened or took part in several Synods, not only in his own diocese, but at Athboy, and Clane, and Clonfert, and Cashel and Lismore, the better to revive the vigour of discipline throughout the whole Irish Church. Of him it may be truly said that he loved the beauty of God's house. He added the choir and the chapel of Our Lady to the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, and he left nothing undone to perfect the comeliness of that sacred edifice. The outward form of that venerable church has been renovated in latter times. Its inner life has long since departed, its altar and its sacrifice are gone; but its aisles and its arches, its rood screen and its Lady Chapel remain to attest the faith and the munificence of him who seven centuries ago merited to be styled its second founder.
" His care extended also to the churches and other religious buildings in Glendalough. The ruins of that venerable spot still excite the admiration. of men of cultivated taste. Its Cathedral and Round Tower, the Lady Chapel, and Teampull-na-Skellig, and the Ivy Church, and St. Kevin's cell, and its other monuments, form a group of sacred ruins unsurpassed in Great Britain. Many of these monuments, indeed, belong to an earlier period of Irish art, but the crowning beauty of them all was added by the munificence of St. Laurence. Under his care religious institutions were multiplied. He introduced into his cathedral the Aroasian Canons, whose fame for religious discipline and whose fragrance of virtue had in a few years spread throughout the whole church. He built for them the monastery of St. Patrick adjoining the cathedral, and he wished himself to live with them, to wear their habit, to be numbered among the brethren, and to be foremost in all their religious observances.
"During a period of famine, which lasted for four years, he was untiring in his exertions to assist his people Throughout the whole of that time he took to himself the care of five hundred sufferers, and every day at least fifty persons received their food at his hands. The orphans he regarded as his special charge. No matter how many of them presented themselves, he took to himself the burden of providing for them all, and when his resources were exhausted he sent some of the orphans into the country parts, bearing aloft a crucifix, and soliciting aid for the little children who were so dear to our Blessed Lord.
But this awakening of the olden glories of the Irish Church, as a skilful historian of the period remarks, contrasted sadly with the ruin that was even then impending over the nation. What part St. Laurence bore in resisting the invaders of his country, the following extract will tell:
"At the invitation of Dermod MacMurrough, the worthless King of Leinster, who for his crimes had been driven from his sovereignty, a number of Anglo-Norman adventurers, brave but unscrupulous and reckless men, landed upon our shores, and with their advent began a long series of oppressions, and cruelties, and miseries, which have no parallel in the history of the Christian States. The military skill of the invaders, their armour, their method of warfare, gave them many advantages in the battle-field, and yet, all this, when confronting Irish bravery, often failed to secure them the victory. There were other arms, however, which seldom failed of success. These were craft and treachery and deceit, for where interest was at stake the Normans allowed no usages of civilized states, no principles of justice, or integrity, or honour, to stand in their way.
"The troops of Dermod and the Anglo-Normans laid siege to Dublin. St. Laurence was deputed by the citizens to negociate terms of peace, but whilst the negociations were being carried on, some of the Anglo-Norman Knights crept into the city unobserved. The Danish garrison at once sought safety in their ships, and then ensued a merciless slaughter of the defenceless citizens. St. Laurence as a good shepherd fearlessly braved every danger when the safety of his flock was imperilled. He threw himself into the midst of the carnage, he snatched the bleeding victims from the hands of their murderers, and himself bandaged their wounds. To the dying he imparted the consolations of religion. Even the slain were not forsaken by him. When there were none to inter them, he did not hesitate to bear them to the cemetery on his own shoulders, and to dig their graves, that in their repose they might not be deprived of Christian burial.
"During the following years we find him making repeated journeys between the contending parties to secure peace for his suffering people. But when his efforts at times proved unavailing, he with true patriotism endeavoured to rouse his countrymen to arms and to combine their united strength against the merciless enemy. Some seem to imagine that love of country and true patriotism cannot go hand in hand with piety and holiness. Never was there a greater fallacy than this. The noblest aspirations of our nature flow from the same heavenly source from which Religion comes to us. It is not the mission of Divine Faith to destroy or to impair those faculties which nature has implanted in the soul, but rather to elevate and to ennoble and to perfect them.
"St. Laurence was the model of a true patriot. He impressed upon the Irish chieftains the dangers that impended over them. He entreated them to lay aside their petty jealousies, and to combine together to renew the glory that was shed upon their country on the plains of Clontarf. He even sought the aid of friendly chieftains in the neighbouring islands, the better to ensure success. A national army assembled at his summons, and for a time it seemed as if his patriotism was to be crowned with victory. The invaders were hemmed in on every side, and could no longer venture outside the walls of the capital. The confederacy, however, of the Irish chieftains was soon dissolved, and thenceforward all the efforts of our saint were directed to promote peace, to diffuse the blessings of charity, and to cement its hallowed bonds. Throughout the entire length and breadth of the land he was revered by all, and posterity has ratified the verdict of his grateful contemporaries when they wished him to be styled Pater Patriae, the true lover of his country and the father of his people."
St. Laurence, like so many Irish Bishops of the present day, enjoyed the privilege of assisting at one of the General Councils of the Church the Third Council of Lateran. Perhaps, too, like his successor in the See of Dublin, the late Cardinal Archbishop, he was deputed to draw up in its final form some Decree of Faith, the influence of which will never fail in the Church. On his return from Rome he was appointed Papal Legate for Ireland. During the short time that now remained to him on earth, he employed his Legatine powers in Ireland, as he had previously exercised his Episcopal authority, in defence of the liberties of the Church, with the same zeal and fortitude as adorned the life, and shed such an undying lustre on the tragic death, of St. Thomas of Canterbury.
"It was in the same year that St. Thomas and St. Laurence entered on their high duties as Archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin. Both alike became illustrious champions of the Church's liberties, and both received the honours of the altar, and yet in many respects how different was their whole career. " St. Thomas, without any nobility of birth to commend him, engaged in the pursuits of ambition, and won for himself the highest honours and the richest emoluments of the kingdom. St. Laurence, though of princely birth, chose for his portion the lowly service of God, and faithfully walked in the paths of piety in the silence and seclusion of the cloister.
"Till he ascended the See of Canterbury, St. Thomas rivalled the monarch in the splendour of his state and the luxury of his table. He appeared at tilts and tournaments, in gorgeous attire, at the head of the chivalry of England, and he partook of all the pleasures of the Court. St. Laurence passed his days in penitential austerities: it was his delight to bestow everything he had upon the poor, and he made himself all to all that he might win souls to Christ.
"Even as successor of St. Augustine, St. Thomas seemed for a time to waver between the duty which he owed to the Church and his affection for his royal master. Strengthened, however, by God's grace, he at length displayed the very heroism of fortitude, and won the martyr's bright aureola as his prize. St. Laurence never deviated for an instant from the paths of holiness. Like the sun in the heavens he steadily pursued his onward course, and, with the palm of the confessors of Christ, he merited to unite the reward of the martyrs. He is styled a Martyr in our Annals, for, though he did not shed his blood for the faith, yet through his desire of martyrdom and his sufferings for justice sake, he ensured its eternal reward.
"St. Thomas's martyrdom gave victory at once to the cause for which he died. It rolled back the tide of aggression in England, and peace once more smiled upon the Church. This lasted only for a time however. The Norman assaults were soon renewed, the liberties of the Church were again trampled on, the Church was treated as a mere handmaid of the State, and religion became enslaved. No wonder that the so called Reformation should ensue; no wonder that centuries of gloom, of error, and schism, and heresy, should settle down on the once glorious churches of England. It is only in our own day, through the blessing of the Sovereign Pontiff, and through the fruitfulness of Irish piety, that a second spring-time has dawned upon her, and that the sunshine of peace and the blessings of Divine Faith have begun to be restored to that fair land."
The circumstances and consequences of his death are thus related by Dr. Moran:
"It was on a twofold mission, a mission of peace and a mission in defence of the church's rights, that St. Laurence sailed for the last time from our shores. Having landed in England, he was informed that by royal order, the ports of the kingdom were closed against his return to Ireland, and thenceforward in the cause of peace and in the cause of the liberties of the Church he was to be an exile from his native land. Hearing that the king was in Normandy, he after a time set out for France, but worn out by his labours and anxieties, fell sick upon the way. Journeying along the smiling valley of the Bresle which then formed the southern boundary of Normandy, he came to an elevated spot now marked by a little chapel which bears his name, and as he saw in the distance the Church of Our Lady of Eu, he cried out " Haec requies mea: This is my resting place for ever: here shall I dwell, because I have chosen it." Entering the Abbey he was welcomed by the religious as an Angel from heaven. In his last moments he was heard to repeat the words : "Oh my people, who now will defend you, who will pour balm upon your wounds!" and closing his eyes in peace he could well exclaim, " I have loved justice, I have laboured to promote peace, and to defend the freedom of God's Church, therefore, I die in exile from the land of my birth."
"No immediate triumph of God's Church in Ireland marked the death of St. Laurence O'Toole. But it was something more, perhaps, that through God's blessing the mantle of his heroism fell upon our whole nation. From his day the union of the Irish clergy and people has become indissoluble, and true patriotism and piety, love of country, and love of the Church have been inseparably blended together in the Irish Catholic heart. The contest of Satan and of the powers of this world against the freedom of religion did not cease, on the contrary their attacks became every day more fierce and more frequent ; and yet that liberty of the Church for which St. Laurence died in exile has never been for a moment surrendered. What nation ever suffered as Ireland has suffered to assert her liberty of serving God? The blood of her sons was poured out in torrents, her sanctuaries that crowned her hills and sanctified her vallies were reduced to ruin, a price was set upon the head of her priests: and even while the sword of persecution was said to be sheathed, was it not merely permitted to our people to drag out a sorrowing existence amid all the poverty and humiliation, and misery of slaves!
" Six centenaries of St. Laurence's feast have seen the struggle against our Church's freedom still prolonged. The first three centenaries witnessed the Church of Ireland humbled amid all the miseries of national dissensions and of civic strife. The fourth centenary found Ireland suffering from the persecution of Queen Elizabeth, and sending countless children to join the white-robed army of the martyrs of Christ. The fifth centenary saw the Archbishop of Armagh mount the scaffold at Tyburn with the serenity of an angel, and with the heroism of a true martyr to die for the faith; whilst the successor of St. Laurence in this See, with the like serenity and the like heroism, at a few paces from where we are assembled, was laying down his life for the same holy cause in prison. Another centenary came on, and the faithful were seen gathered together in the garrets or in the stables of the back lanes of this city, to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At length, however, the day of victory and peace has dawned, and as St. Laurence on this seventh centenary of his festival looks down from his heavenly throne on the Church which he so loved, what will he behold? He will see his worthy successor walking in his footsteps, and free from every fetter, be it of gold or be it of steel, that could lessen his independence or prevent him from ministering to the flock of Christ entrusted to his care. He will see his faithful people serving God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, whilst their faith and piety, and charity, are commended throughout the whole Christain world. He will behold the Church for which he laboured, not in the infirmity and decrepitude of old age, but in the full vigour and freshness of youth, her brow adorned with the laurels of victory, and her garments of virtue, bright and fragrant as the threshold of Paradise."
Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 3rd series, Volume I (1880), 705-711.
Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.
Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.