Friday 10 May 2024

Feast of the Translation of the Relics of Saint Laurence O'Toole, May 10

On May 10 Canon O'Hanlon concludes his entries for the day with this short notice: 

 Article XIV. Translation of the Relics of St. Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin. 

The anniversary for the translation of St. Laurence O'Toole's relics is observed, with great solemnity, at Eu, in Normandy. The translation itself, which took place, on the 10th of May, A.D. 1226, will be found treated at much greater length, in the Life of St. Laurence O'Toole, at the 14th of November. The present feast was celebrated, with an office of Nine Lessons.

Sadly, the November volume of Lives of the Irish Saints remained unpublished at the time of O'Hanlon's death on May 15, 1905, but fortunately his Life of St. Laurence O'Toole had been issued as a separate publication in 1877. We can therefore enjoy Canon O'Hanlon's detailed account of the translation of the relics of Dublin's archbishop  on May 10, 1226. Saint Laurence died in Normandy on November 14, 1180 whilst on his final diplomatic mission and so it was in continental Europe, where so many Irish saints of the earlier medieval period had laboured, that he was laid to rest. Hagiographers record that the deaths of saints are accompanied by signs and wonders, and in the case of Saint Laurence:

On the night of the departure of our saint, it is related, that many persons observed a wonderful brightness surrounding the abbey of Eu, and to so great a degree of brilliancy, they were at first of opinion that either the monastery or some other house in its vicinity was in flames. And at the same time, a citizen of Dublin, named Innocent, whilst in the cathedral church of the Holy Trinity, saw in a vision during sleep, a most wonderful portent. For, on a sudden, the high altar seemed to fall down and immediately disappear. On the following day,  he related this vision in public to the citizens of Dublin, solemnly asserting, that their holy archbishop must have departed from amongst the living; an event which was exactly verified, on the arrival of the messengers who brought the account of his death.*

*Surius De Probatis Sanctorum Vitis, p. 339; Messingham's Florilegium Insulæ Sanctorum, p. 387; Vita S.Laurentii, cap. xxxiv.

Canon O'Hanlon takes up the story of the translation of the relics of Saint Laurence, using a manuscript source preserved in Marsh's Library in Dublin:

The body of the holy man having remained deposited for the space of five years and five months,* in the place where it had been committed to the earth, some persons who were afflicted with fever having prayed over the tomb, felt confident that they should be restored to health through the intercession of the saint, who had wrought so many miracles and who had effected so many cures during his life. About the same time, the old church in which the body of the saint lay, having become quite ruinous, it had been resolved to remove the walls, so that the grave of the saint would thenceforth be disturbed by the ravages of the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. A heavenly-inspired design was then conceived, of removing the body of the saint under these circumstances

*Then it was discovered, that the body was preserved in the coffin, not only free from corruption, but that it even emitted an agreeable odour. The flesh and hair were found to have been preserved, and the joints of the thighs, legs, and arms were flexible, as if moved by a person in the full enjoyment of life. It is even said, that blood was found in the veins of the inanimate body, MS. Etat des Reliques de St. Laurent d'Eu. p. 3.

It was exhumed, and placed before the altar of St. Leodagarius, on the xv. of the kalends of May (April 17th), and on the feria quinta, or Thursday, of the year 1186. The abbot, monks, and numbers of other persons were in attendance at the time. Thenceforward the Omnipotent was pleased to work so many and such great miracles through his holy servant, that, as the MS. expresses it, the fame of his sanctity diffused itself throughout the entire country, like a broken alabaster vase of precious ointment. Many infirm persons, who came from villages and places remote, obtained favours through the intercession of the saint. Through his prayers the blind were restored to the use of vision, the deaf to the faculty of hearing, and the dumb to the exercise of speech. Lepers were cleansed, the weak recovered strength, paralytics and demoniacs were restored to the use of reason, and safety was accorded to those in danger. Health was imparted to the infirm, and even life to those whose souls had departed from their bodies. A partial account of these miracles was committed to writing, with a view to procure his canonization.

Whilst the memory of our saint was rendered illustrious by the performance of so many and such great miracles, the faithful were led to believe that by obtaining a decree for his canonization, the glory and triumphs of the Church of God would be more diffused, as a light placed upon a candelabrum would the more widely extend its rays. Wherefore, the Church of Eu sent messengers to the sovereign pontiffs, Popes Celestine III. and Innocent III. of happy memory, to whom they brought many letters, bearing testimony to the sanctity and virtues of the holy confessor. In these it was prayed that the decree of his canonization might be pronounced by the authority of the apostolic see. The examination consequent on the number of letters received, caused some procrastination, during which many despaired of the early enrolment of Laurence amongst the number of the beatified. But, the various miracles and virtues manifested by God through his servant, and the increasing devotion of the people towards his memory, would not admit of an indefinite postponement. Whence it happened, that in the ninth year of the pontificate of Honorius III., the venerable Abbot Guido, [ the seventh Abbot of Eu] as the representative of the people of Eu, resolved to remove the difficulties, labours, and expenses of the investigation, so long undecided, and the happy issue of which was earnestly expected by the faithful. He exerted all his energies, and laboured with the most anxious solicitude, to effect the object of his mission. It would be impossible to relate all the varied particulars of the labours endured and the journeys made by the venerable abbot, or the solicitude he felt throughout the whole proceedings. However, he succeeded in obtaining the decree for our saint's canonization…

....This happy event being accomplished, the Abbot Guido, bearing with him the letters and bulls, which were enclosed in a silk covering, arrived at Eu, on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, and was joyfully and publicly received by the citizens of the place. The whole city was in a delirium of joy, and gave thanks and praises to God; for the inhabitants expected the continued manifestation of those miracles which had already distinguished their holy patron, from the additional circumstance of his having been enrolled amongst the company of the blessed in heaven. All the people began frequently and devoutly to invoke his intercession, that they might obtain the favourable issue of their several petitions, and be relieved under their various necessities. The Lord was pleased to work many signs and miracles through his servant, some of which are subjoined by the author of our saint's life, and which are here substantially reproduced. The venerable Archbishop Theobald, who then ruled over the metropolitan see of Rouen, having arrived at Eu, to the great joy of its inhabitants, a day within the octave of the former translation of the holy confessor's remains was fixed for the renewed and solemn transference of his relics. With great honour and solemnity, it had been resolved to remove the body to a more conspicuous and elevated position in the church. Wherefore, the time appointed being arrived, the tomb was approached with lights borne by the attendants, and it was intended to remove the remains with as little disturbance as possible. The Abbot Guido and his community of monks at Eu were present, as also the prior of the canons of St. Victor of Paris, and his attendant canon, with two canons who were sent by Theobald, archbishop of Rouen. In a private manner, the remains were removed from the earth to a shrine prepared for them, and being reposed in a covering of silk, they were placed in a leather case. The right arm, the head of the holy confessor, and a few other particles of his sacred remains, were reserved from this inclosure. In the year of our Lord 1226, on the vi. of the ides, or 10th day of May, at the dawn of a Sunday morning, a great number of ecclesiastics and secular persons were in attendance. Amongst others, Theobald, archbishop of Rouen, and Galfrid, bishop of Amiens, were present. The remains were removed with great honour and reverence, at an early hour in the morning.* About the third hour of the day of this festival, an immense multitude of persons of every rank, sex, and age, attended from all parts of the surrounding country. The church and streets were literally blocked up to such a degree, during the time of the public procession, that even with the aid of barons and soldiers who preceded the sacred relics, it was found a matter of great difficulty to gain access to the church. A suitable discourse having been pronounced, the shrine in which the sacred body was placed, with the shrines containing the head and arm of the saint, were borne in a public manner through the streets, the devout faithful pressing from all sides to witness these imposing ceremonies, and to manifest their devotion towards their holy patron. Then the sacred relics were brought to the church, and placed within the sanctuary; and from this time forward many and great miracles were constantly wrought through the intercession of St. Laurence. The author of our saint's life, in the MS. preserved in Marsh's Library, says that he would satisfy the curiosity of his readers by recounting only a few of the many miracles wrought for the edification of the faithful. These relations, he says, were drawn from the written records of the inquisitions taken on the authority of sworn witnesses, and are given by him, if not in the precise words, at least in that order in which they were presented for the audience of the Sovereign Pontiff and the College of Cardinals.

*I find additional particulars regarding this translation, in the following account, taken from another source. In the year 1226, the body of St. Laurence was exhumed by the abbot Guy, in the presence of all the religious, the abbot of St. Victor of Paris, then at Eu, two nobles and two canons of Rouen, who had been sent by the archbishop and chapter of the latter city. The body, however, was not found in the same perfect state of preservation, as it had appeared to those who opened the coffin, forty years before, but the remains exhaled an agreeable odour, which gave the greatest possible delight and satisfaction to all those who were present. The head which was yet covered with hair, and the right arm were then removed and placed in separate reliquaries. The other remains were deposited in their resting place, after having been enveloped in fine linen, until the day appointed for the public and solemn translation of the relics. The 10th day of May, 1226, having arrived, Thibaut, archbishop of Rouen, Godfrey, bishop of Amiens, the abbot Guy, the prior of St. Victor and other ecclesiastics entered the vault where the remains of the saint reposed. Matins were then sung, before the remains were removed. The coffin or old shrine bearing the relics was then solemnly borne in procession to the church, on an ornamented bier. On the opening of the shrine, the remains were exposed for the veneration of the people, and afterwards deposited in a new shrine that had been prepared for their reception. The head and right arm of the saint were also exposed. In fine, the shrine having been closed and sealed, it was carried processionally through the city. All the inhabitants wept tears of joy on witnessing these ceremonies, and in reflecting that their city had been enriched by such a treasure. On the return of the processionists, the shrine was placed on a large table covered with rich tapestry, and it rested within the choir, before the great altar of the church. A white canopy covered the shrine. The people were enabled to satisfy their devotion during the Mass which was then sung, and towards its close, the archiepiscopal blessing was imparted to them. The annual celebration of this festival of the translation of our saint's relics continues to the present time in the city of Eu, and a numerous concourse of the citizens and people of the surrounding districts always assist at the solemnity.-MS, Etat des Reliques de St. Laurent d'Eu, pp. 4, 5.

After the solemn translation of our saint's relics in 1226, they were placed within the choir of the church of Notre-Dame at Eu, and were preserved as the richest treasures of the church and city, until the end of the last century, when the French Revolution took place. The sacred remains, in detatched portions, were enclosed within four different reliquaries. The first case contained the cranium or upper part of the head, which was affixed to an artificial bust, but placed in its natural position. The head was crowned with a mitre, and seemed to incline in the attitude of salutation and benediction, when carried in solemn procession. There is a picture in the chapel of St. Laurence O'Toole at Eu, which is placed under the organ, and which represents the ancient bust, which was encased in a shrine of massive silver, given by the canons regular of St. Laurence, towards the year 1650. In the latter shrine it was placed by Monsignore François de Harley, archbishop of Rouen, it having been contained before that time within a round reliquary of wood, ornamented with silver and gilding, and which rested on four pedestals. The second case enclosed the right arm of the saint, and was shaped in conformation with the relic it contained. It is not known with certainty, that this relic is preserved; but it is said, that amongst the old furniture of the church there is an arm contained in wood, which is gilt and hollowed within; this covering, it is supposed, most probably contained the precious remains of our saint. The third case enclosed another bone of St. Laurence, which probably formed the upper part of the right arm already mentioned. This relic was placed in a chrystal vase, and was enclosed in a box of silver, which is also richly gilt. Finally, the fourth case or shrine contained the whole body of the saint, with the exception of the parts already mentioned, and some small portions which were given to several religious houses, and among others, to the abbey of St. Victor of Paris. The Jesuit fathers, Briard and Edmond Massé, when setting out on their American mission, carried with them some of the bones of St. Laurence O'Toole, and a portion of his garments; and they are said to have performed miracles, the dead being even raised to life when touched by these relics. The last named reliquary is of wood, richly covered with plates of gold and silver, and studded with precious stones.
In course of time, the feast of the translation of the holy confessor's relics became a great solemnity at the abbey of Eu, which, by degrees, took the name of the venerable guest that had formerly visited it. However, the abbey reverted to its original title of Notre-Dame, whilst the parish in which it stands is named, La paroisse de Saint Laurent, in honour of the saint, who is the special patron of Eu. At the present day, the people of this city celebrate the festivals of St. Laurence O'Toole and of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin with equal solemnity. The body of the holy confessor, reposing in its rich shrine, was placed upon four columns of red marble. The ravages of the Huguenots of Dieppe, in 1562, most probably destroyed these sacred objects of art; for, at the period of the French revolution, they no longer existed. In the archives of the department, and in an inventory of the abbey made by the Prior Campanon, in 1790, it is said, that the shrine of St. Laurence was placed behind the high altar, and protected by a balcony of iron. The head of the saint was kept in a shrine of wood of a dark colour, and the two arms were in wood, covered with some plates of silver.

For a long time, a relic of St. Laurence, was preserved in the abbey of Eu: this was the chalice with which the blessed archbishop had been accustomed to celebrate the divine mysteries. For some centuries after his death, those afflicted patients who made a pilgrimage to his tomb, were in the habit of drinking from it. In 1408, this relic was stolen, but shortly afterwards recovered. A second time, however, it was taken away by the Huguenots of Dieppe, in the month of July, 1562, and afterwards was not restored.

Rev. John O’Hanlon, The Life of St. Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin and Delegate Apostolic of the Holy See, for the Kingdom of Ireland, (Dublin, 1877).

Finally, I might add that Canon O'Hanlon dedicated his Life of St. Laurence O'Toole to the then Archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen, D.D. An anonymous reviewer of a novena to Saint Laurence described how the Irish prelate was left in no doubt about the strength of the devotion to Saint Laurence in Normandy:

Cardinal Cullen, who filled the double office which the patron-saint of Dublin filled in his day -Archbishop of Dublin and Apostolic Delegate -  made a pilgrimage once to his predecessor's shrine at Eu, in Normandy. The Archbishop of Rouen expressed his willingness to transfer the relics of St. Laurence to Dublin; but he added, "when your Grace comes to translate them from Eu, you will require at least two regiments of infantry, a few squadrons of cavalry, and a small park of artillery; for my good people have such a veneration for your saint, who is the protector of their city, that they will only yield up his relics to superior force."

The Irish Monthly, Volume 8, No. 89 (November 1880), p. 628.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2024. All rights reserved.

No comments: