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Brehon Law Project, Saint Laurence O'Toole, buried at Eu, France.

Dedicated to Lorcán Ua Tuathail
(Saint Laurence O'Toole. 1128-1180)

 

 

Brehon Law Project, O'Toole Coat of Arms

Laurence O'Toole was born at Castledermot, Kildare, Ireland, 1128; died at Eu, Normandy, France, on November 14, 1180; and canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III. Born Lorcán Ua Tuathail, his mother was an O'Byrne and his father Murtagh or Maurice O'Tuathail, a Leinster chieftain of the Murrays--both sides were of princely stock. In the 2nd century, the Celt Tuathail was one of the great Irish kings. Another of the line reigned in 533. One of the seven churches of Glendalough, County Wicklow, served as the burial site for many generations of O'Tuathails. O'Toole comes from Tuathal, meaning ruler of the people.

Lorcán went on to become Abbot of Glendalough at the age of 26. Later, he was appointed as the Archbishop of Dublin, the first native to ever achieve that position. He is remembered as martyr for both God and country having been sent as envoy for the  Irish High King, Ruaidri O'Connor to King Henry II, and negotiated the Windsor Treaty on October 6, 1175.  This was a mission that required high qualities of skill and statesmanship, where the contracting parties represented the feudal system opposed to Irish law and custom. While on this trip he was attacked while saying mass in Canterbury and receiving a fatal blow to the head.  The Treaty was broken two years later by Henry.

Hostage Surety

When Lorcán was born his family had been ousted from their ancient throne and Dermot MacMurrough was the representative of the usurping line. Dermot was a large, violent, war-loving, vocal man hated by strangers and feared by his own people. (It was he who invited King Henry of England to come and take possession of Ireland.) Nevertheless, Lorcán's father had many soldiers, servants, land, and cattle.

At age 10 Lorcán was sent to Dermot as a hostage to guarantee his father's fidelity to the new order. For a time Lorcán lived in Dermot's castle, until the day his father refused to obey an order. Lorcán was taken to a stony, barren region, to be punished for his father's sin. At the end of the journey was a miserable, dilapidated hut with a leaky roof. There he forced to practice austerity because he was given only enough bread and greens and water to keep him alive, no clothes, and no companionship except a guard. For two years he lived in this desolate manner until threats restored him to his father.

The bishop of Glendalough was the mediator between Dermot and O'Tuathail and young Lorcán was sent across the hills to him. The bishop first introduced Lorcán in Saint Kevin's sanctuary to the quiet recollectedness of Christian life and studies. His father arrived a few days later and, in thanksgiving for the safe return of his son, proposed dedicating one of his sons--to be chosen by casting lots--to the service of God and Saint Kevin. Lorcán laughed for the only time in his dolorous life, telling his father that he would most willingly choose God as his inheritance.

Abbott at Glendalough

So, he became a student at the school for novices in Glendalough, where he stayed for 22 years as novice, monk, then abbot. Lorcán's character was annealed in the ascetic training of the early Irish Church whose austerities would seem fabulous if they were not well authenticated. He stood in the direct descent of Saint Kevin and the early anchorites of Glendalough, spending each Lent throughout his life in lonely, but joyful, contemplation on the rocky shelf beneath Saint Kevin's monastery, and practicing austerities as a normal part of his life.

The tall, extremely thin Lorcán was elected abbot in 1153 at the age of 25. His tenure of office gave him the widest exercise of ruling men (abbots in Ireland even overruled bishops). Within the household he had to reckon with the envy and malice provided by his early elevation; outside the enclosure he had distress to alleviate in the mountainous lands that gave precarious support to the population, and he had to ensure peace and order along roads harassed by robbers.

Lorcán's unbounded charity first became evident during a famine that marked the beginning of his office. He used the resources of the monastery and also his father's fortune to minister to the poor as a servant, rather than a prelate. He spent freely on church building, and from this period dates the beautiful priory of Saint Saviour's at the eastern end of the valley.

After four years of service as abbot, his spiritual stature was so plainly evident that men sought to make him bishop of Glendalough. He refused stating that he was not of canonical age. For 10 years the administration of the monastery engaged his full zeal and charity; he was in touch with the great reform synod of Kells in 1152. His name is inscribed on the 1161 charter of the new Augustinian foundation at Ferns, where years later the fugitive King Dermot, its founder, sought a monk's disguise when he was deserted by his kinsmen and friends.

Archbishop of Dublin

In 1161 Gregory, archbishop of Dublin, died and Lorcán was unanimously elected to succeed him by Danish and native clergy and laity, including the High King O'Loughlin and even his former captor, Dermot McMurrough, who was now married to Lorcán's sister Mor.

During a famine which afflicted the city that destitute flocked to his doors. He exerted himself in the public relief, not merely by prodigally multiplying his personal charities but by organized assistance, quartering the city poor upon the abbey lands of his cathedral--Swords, Lusk, and Finglas. When these were filled and the famine still continued, he sent others farther afield throughout Ireland, recommending them to the popular charity and chartering a vessel at great cost to convey others to England.

Laurence the Reformer

Momentously for the Irish Church, Lorcán was consecrated the following year in the Danish Christ Church, Dublin, founded by Sitric, which had never seen a native prelate. And the sacrament was conferred by Gelasius of Armagh, the primate, in the presence of his suffragan bishops. Dublin had been a Norse town for 300 years, and, because the Norse were evangelized by Anglo-Saxons, the Irish Church had always looked to Canterbury rather than Armagh. The vicissitudes of his immediate predecessor are evidence of the racial and ecclesiastical jealousies that his election allayed and the manner of his consecration (at the hands of the Irish primate, rather than the English one) is signal testimony to the new consolidation of the Irish hierarchy, which was a principal object of the Irish Reform movement in the 12th century.

Reform was necessary because the monastic system had been corrupted under the Norse rule during which the abbot or comarba who ruled the monastery as heir of the saintly founder was commonly a layman. The vices of laicisation were rampant, even in the primatial see of Armagh which was in lay hands for generations. There was a collateral necessity to organize according to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church; the authority of the bishop, archbishop, and primate had to be defined and established upon a territorial basis.

Behind every reform movement there is a saint. In Ireland that person was Saint Malachy, having as precursors Cellach of Armagh and Gilbert of Limerick. Their movement carried on from synod to synod beginning with Rath Bresail in 1111, achieved its main purpose in the synod of Kells in 1152, when among other decisions the sees of Dublin and Tuam were erected to archbishoprics and the number and limits of the present dioceses were substantially fixed. Minor outstanding disciplinary reforms were completed in synods held in 1162, 1167, and 1172--all of which were attended by Lorcán.

After his consecration Lorcán had to move from being an 'other worldly' man to a man of the world. He might have lamented like Saint Bernard: "I am become the chimaera of my century, neither cleric nor layman." Nevertheless, Lorcán managed with saintly charm to integrate his inner and outer life. Tall, graceful Lorcán wore the bishop's vestments with dignity, and a hairshirt underneath, for example.

He dispensed discreetly liberal hospitality to rich and poor in his home beside his cathedral; among rich foods choosing for himself the plainest and coloring water with wine for courtesy and company's sake. Each day at his table 30 to 60 of the poor dined among his other guests that the rich may be encouraged to do the same. From the day he donned the white Augustinian robes he never ate meat, and on Fridays he fasted on bread and water.

Three times daily he used the discipline (self-flagellation); his nights were lonely vigils or spent in the choir. Assiduous in attendance at Divine Office, when at dawn the canons left the choir for their cells, he remained in solitary prayer. Twice during his long periods of adoration, the Corpus on the Crucifix before the kneeling prelate spoke. When day came he regularly went out to the cemetery to chant the office of the dead. His life was what the old Irish homily calls the "white martyrdom" of abnegation and labor.

The bull of his canonization recites his constancy in prayer and his austere mortification. These were the secret springs of his energy and profuse charity. This white-robed figure of whose speech hardly four sentences remain is seen always in the gracious gesture of giving and with the gravity of silence about him. Crowds depend upon him, recognizing in him a source of supernatural power. The records of his canonization attest to his miracles. He lived through two famines and two sieges and saw the city of his adoption sacked. He moves through hardships with the equilibrium of the saint and a saint's equal mind. But also with the saint's energy.

He had hardly taken his episcopal seat when his zeal turned to the reform of his clergy. His predecessors had been trained in a milder climate and under laxer monastic rules. The service of the cathedral had suffered. Looking abroad for a model he persuaded his secular canons to join him in community life as Augustinian regulars of the Arroasian Rule and converted the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity into a priory. His community became a school for bishops: Albin of Ferns, Marianus of Cork, and Malachy of Louth who were subsequent witnesses to his sanctity.

In the Irish monasteries psalmody occupied a central place in the monk's life. Lorcán raised the Gregorian chant, still so little heard in Irish churches, to its proper place about the altar and restored its appropriate splendor to the Divine Office. He commended the rebuilding of the cathedral and added to the number of parish churches.

The marriage of Eve and Strongbow

King Dermot McMurrough is often associated with Lorcán in these charities, but Dermot's later actions invited the Anglo-Normans into Ireland. Dermot abducted Dervorgilla, wife of Prince Tiernan O'Rourke of Brefni. In 1166, O'Rourke and his allies reduced Dermot to ruin. He sailed to England for help, taking with him his daughter Eva, Bishop O'Toole's niece, whose beauty and nobility made her a desirable as a potential spouse. Although King Henry II of England was still engaged in his conflict against Saint Thomas Beckett and Aquitaine, he saw the revolt and Dermot's arrival as an opportunity to realize his designs to possess Ireland.

Then came the scourge of war in 1170, King Henry promised Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke ("Strongbow"), the hand of the beautiful Eva and succession to the throne of Leinster. He dispatched Strongbow at the head of an army of nobles and his Anglo-Norman adventurers landed in Ireland and took Waterford. Richard de Clare married Lorcán's niece Eva (Aoife) in Waterford Cathedral before marching on to Dublin.

Eve and Strongbow, marriage of Irish and English royalty and law

The rest of Lorcán's episcopate was conditioned by the events that followed. He was in the very act of negotiating terms with Dermot, when the city was seized by Strongbow's sudden, treacherous irruption, and the peacemaker turned to save the wounded, to bury his dead, to guard ecclesiastical property from spoliation, and to recover the looted Church vessels and books.

Thoroughly aroused for his country, the saint urged a united front under King Roderick (Rory, Ruaidri) O'Connor. Henceforth he had to double as both a Mercier soldier and a clergyman. The princes of Ireland were moved to action by the patriotic zeal of the archbishop, who joined with Ruaidri in rallying the country and its allies, sending missives abroad to Gottred of Man and to the other lords of the Isles.

When Dermot died suddenly, the Earl of Pembroke declared himself king of Leinster, but was recalled to England by Henry. Before Pembroke could return, the Irish united behind O'Connor, and the earl barricaded himself in Dublin as the Irish forces attacked. While Lorcán was trying to effect a settlement, Pembroke suddenly attacked and won an unexpected victory.

The Statesman

The rest of Lorcán's political life was busied with embassies of peace. When Henry II came to Dublin in October 1171. Although his real purpose was to receive the submission of the Irish princes, he publicly denounced the misconduct of the English in Ireland, portraying a benevolent king on a mission of welfare. His overture was rejected by Bishop Gelasius, the high king, and the northern princes, but the princes of the south took King Henry at face value. The patriot Lorcán journeyed to Connaught to call forth the dissident nobility.

Henry arranged with the papal legate, Christian of Lismore, for the convocation of a synod at Cashel. The English king's decrees presented nothing not already observed in Ireland, except the celebration of the Divine Office according to the English usage. At this time, Armagh was recognized as the primatial see of Ireland under the submission of no see but that of Rome. This was the beginning of the Irish "troubles" with England that were to endure for another eight centuries. On the strength of such fair assurances the leaders of both Church and State accepted Henry.

Then Henry began to distribute Crown lands, until he was forced to leave Ireland in April 1172 in the face of threatened excommunication for the murder of Thomas Becket. In the meantime, Henry's envoys reached Rome with the news of his success in Ireland. Henry was pardoned by Pope Alexander III after walking through the streets barefoot in penance.

In 1175 the situation is reversed; Lorcán is Ruaidri's (Rory O'Connor) envoy to King Henry II, sent to negotiate the Treaty of Windsor, a mission that required the high qualities of skill and statesmanship, where the contracting parties represented the feudal system opposed to Irish law and custom.

The task was not made easier by a mischance that occurred. While saying Mass at the shrine of Saint Thomas at Canterbury, a madman who had heard of Lorcán's reputation for sanctity, thought that he would meritoriously make another martyr and felled the saint to the ground with a club before the high altar. The traces of this blow on the head were verified by the Cardinal Archbishop of Rouen in 1876 on examining the body. Unlike the martyred Becket, Lorcán was able to finish the Mass.

Meanwhile synods had been held at Armagh, Cashel, and Dublin, which Lorcán attended in his subordinate place. None of them shows any trace of his leadership or statesmanship.

In 1178, Henry II provided his son John with the title "Dominus Hiberiae," which was not as exalted as the royal title allowed by Rome in order to ensure Ireland's subordinate position. That same year, the papal legate to Scotland and Ireland, Cardinal Vivian, arrived in Ireland. He was indignant at the incursions and slaughter of the invading de Courcy, whom he admonished to withdraw. When his command was unheeded, the cardinal exhorted King MacDunlevy of Ulster to defend his country.

In 1179, Lorcán left for Rome to attend the Third General Lateran Council with five other Irish bishops, more than attended from Scotland and England combined. On their passage through England, Henry compelled them to promise not to seek anything at the council that was prejudicial to the king or his kingdom.

Some 300 bishops attended the council, and from that great assembly Lorcán passed into the closest confidence of the Holy See. He obtained from Alexander III a bull confirming the rights and privileges of the see of Dublin. Jurisdiction was conferred over five suffragan sees and the pope took the archbishop's church in Dublin and all its possessions under Saint Peter's protection and his own, defining and confirming its possessions and ensuring it and the property of his suffragans by strictest penalties against any lay or ecclessial interference. Finally, on his return home Alexander gave him the supreme mark of his confidence in naming Lorcán as papal legate.

In the brief space of life that was left to him, Lorcán exercised his new powers with exemplary decision. With the invaders new abuses had crept amongst his clergy. Some abuses he refused to forgive and dispatched at least 140 clerics to Rome.

Henry was not pleased with the steps Lorcán had taken in Rome. A new Thomas Becket had touched his authority. And, therefore, on a final peace mission for Ruaidri, when Lorcán crossed the Irish Sea to take the king's son as a hostage to Henry, he found the Channel ports closed against his return by royal edict. After three weeks of virtual imprisonment in the monastery of Abingdon, Lorcán followed the king to Normandy. He landed near Treport at a cove which still bears his name, Saint-Laurent. There the saint fell ill and was taken to Saint Victor's abbey at Eu, where he was received by the monks and where his bones still rest.

A priest companion was sent to find Henry. He brought back word that Henry would again meet with King Rory. Saint Lorcán had done all that he could.

Death in Exile

Only two sentences are recorded of his last hours. Asked by the abbot to make his will: "God knows, I have not a penny under the sun." A little later a farewell in his native tongue, thinking of his own people.

A good and just man, Giraldus calls him; he died in exile--an exile and a fugitive, the Abbot Hugues wrote to Innocent III, pro libertate ecclesiae--an exile as well, he might have written, of charity and patriotism.

So many miracles were reported at his tomb that less than five years after his death, his remains were enclosed in a crystal case and translated to a place of special honor before the high altar of the church at Eu. The canons and faithful of that city forwarded his formal canonization.

His life was written and rewritten at Eu from information eagerly gathered by the canons from the saint's disciples and other pilgrims from Ireland who journeyed to his shrine; from his nephew Thomas, Abbot of Glendalough; his intimates Albin, bishop of Ferns, Marianus of Cork, and Malachy of Louth; and from Jean Comyn, who succeeded him in the see of Dublin. In 1225, 45 years after his death, he was canonized by Honorius III and thereupon became patron of the archdiocese of Dublin (Attwater, Curran, Curtayne, Curtis, D'Arcy, Delaney, Healy, Kenney, Legris, Messingham, O'Hanlon, Plummer, Sullivan).

 

 

 


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