Heartless: Thief Steals The Heart of St. Laurence O’Toole

The Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin has reported a theft. Nothing new there. However, the item is not one of the golden chalices or crosses that are often targeted by thieves. Someone stole the preserved heart of St. Laurence O’Toole (also known as Lorcán Ua Tuathail).

Such holy relics have long been a part of the Catholic faith. As a Catholic, I never quite understood it, but (as we have discussed before) churches around the world display severed body parts of various saints. Indeed, there was once a roaring market for relics. I am less sure that this thief would find an easy fence to move this particular item. Unless this was for personal gratification, this would be a special order item like the order to steal the sign at Auschwitz.

O’Toole’s heart was displayed in a wooden box held within an iron cage (shown right). Someone cut through the cage and removed the entire heart-shaped container.

O’Toole was Dublin’s archbishop from 1162 to 1180. He was the first true Irishman to hold that position and was deeply loved in Ireland. He campaigned against corrupt priests and was himself an ascetic who wore a hair shirt, never ate meat, and annually did forty days’ retreat in St. Kevin’s Cave on a precipice of Lugduff Mountain.

When he died on a trip to Normandy, he was reportedly asked about his will. He replied “God knows, I have not a penny under the sun to leave anyone.” It appears that some people thought he was under-reporting his assets since his heart is not the only thing removed upon death. His skull was brought to England in 1442 by Sir Rowland Standish and his bones interred at the parish church of Chorley in England, now named St. Laurence’s. The bones disappeared in the Reformation.

Source: Boston as first seen on Reddit.

18 thoughts on “Heartless: Thief Steals The Heart of St. Laurence O’Toole”

  1. I believe there is so much more to the life of the repentant thief on the cross named St Dismas according to history documentation. Being the only one promised to see paradise on the day of the Lord’s crucification even out of the 12 discipes, there must of been other notable decisions in St Dismas’s life. He is a perfect example that it is never too late to get saved, even in our darkest hour.

  2. Sorry should have checked.
    Should be: Building churches on top of temples and secular building new cities on top of war-destroyed ones is a way of expressing dominance and a form of history writing.

  3. DHMC,

    You’re full of holes, you know that.

    Jesus existence is supported by only one source, and that reference smells so high of a later forgery that it reeks after being analyzed. That joseph of the israel wars and of the israel history I’m speaking of.

    We don’t go to museums or monuments to worship. Perhaps in remembrance as in my visiting the Vietnam wall in Washington.
    And viewing the DoI would only serve to increase ones receptivity to the propaganda that you support consumption of. A course in the meaning and context then and now should be a more valuable contribution to our children.
    Can you support that idea?

    Shrines or equivalent exist in ALL religions, even the most primitive.
    The first neanderthal graves are taken as the first shrines in religious meaning. As are Shinto shrines, aborigine, even inuit ones on solid ground, and in Kamchatka the shrines are more numerous than the volcanoes, and they are not few.

    Enshrining saints are just another example of the RCC taking up older forms in a syncretic try at absorbing and replacing older religions.
    Saints are just another form of ancestor worship.
    Building churches on top of of war destroyed cities—-both economic and a re-writing of history.

    As for cultural persistence in spite of decimation, do you knów that there are descendants of 4000 year old civilizations who today revere their ancestry but not the same gods, at least not explicitly.

    And I wonder why you have not answered my previous comment directed to you. Any explanation?

    1. idealist707, you seem well-intentioned, but as you are determined to have the fact fit your pre-determined conclusions, and you neglect to read carefully.

      Specifically, you asked: “Does anybody pray to Lennon’s teeth?
      Or do they expect miracles to be reliably generated by veneration of them.
      Nor does anyone build monuments to enshrine them. etc.
      And does circling the stupa provide more than a useful pause from the monotony of the journey? Are there signs saying which lama we are rounding?”

      While no, no one prays to Lennon’s teeth (well, I would not say “no one” — there are a lot of people with differing spiritualities on this planet, and I am sure enough research could find veneration of celebrities’ artefacts), we do venerate such artefacts — and such veneration is a shadow of the cult of saints celebrated by some of the members of the Catholic Church. And yes, we do build monuments to enshrine our secular artefacts — museums and national monuments, as I stated in answer to yours and Roger’s comments. If you do not realize that our modern museums and monuments are memerely an extension of older forms of worship, then you should read some cultural anthropology. (Why do you think most of the monuments in Washington, DC are built like pagan temples? Or like churches?) And I also discussed that stupas (and other shrines) are more than what you termed “a useful pause from the monotony of the journey”. So if you think I did not answer your questions, that is because you are not paying attention to answers that challenged what you chose to believe.

      So no, my argument is not full of holes. And for someone who has the moniker “idealist”, your comments on this blog tend to be highly critical and suspicious of anyone who does not think exactly like your idiosyncratic manner.

      As to this:

      “And viewing the DoI would only serve to increase ones receptivity to the propaganda that you support consumption of. A course in the meaning and context then and now should be a more valuable contribution to our children.
      Can you support that idea?”

      For one thing, no where have I said that I support the consumption of propaganda — it is merely important to see things for what they are.

      And a final point — your assertion that there is only one source supporting the existence of Jesus as a historical person, it is simply wrong.

  4. “As a Catholic, I never quite understood it, but (as we have discussed before) churches around the world display severed body parts of various saints.”

    I personally think the Church is desperate to show any kind of tangible proof of the existence of the divine. There is no reliable historical evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ, and plenty of evidence of forgeries trying to invent such evidence by the Church itself. What does that (and other problems) tell us?

    It tells me he never existed, the Church knows he never existed, and the lack of evidence that he ever existed troubles them greatly. Preserving physical parts of saints seems to me to be macabre manifestation of the compulsive need to hide the coverup.

    1. In general, I would answer two ways:

      One, to quote from Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

      Two, this is a useful post from a liberal Catholic that is instructive on how we approach the divine now, versus how the divine has been approached historically: http://richardrohr.wordpress.com/tag/4-senses-of-scripture/ (the post refers to scriptural texts, but I think it applies to all aspects of the sacred).

      We do build to enshrine relics and people of the past — but we call them museums or monuments. Does seeing an original copy of the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives add to our knowledge of it? Not in a literal sense. Does it deepen our spiritual connection to our country? Most certainly, at least for many people.

      My understanding is that most people believe that stupas are built over relics of the Buddha, or venerated lamas — and I believe that people in the area know who it is who is being venerated. Ditto with the shrines called marabout in the Mahgreb. I could provide more examples, but the essential point is that the cult of saints is not by any stretch a uniquely Catholic phenomenon.

      And as far as whether Jesus existed — it is a pretty silly argument. There was almost definitely someone named Jesus, probably from Nazareth, who was executed by the Romans in what was at that time known as the province of Judea when Pontius Pilate was prefect. We have non-Christian sources that attest to the execution. His existence is about as certain as anyone’s can be from such a backwater 2,000 years ago. Whether you believe he had divine status, well, that’s a whole different issue.

  5. -DHMC
    Does anybody pray to Lennon’s teeth?
    Or do they expect miracles to be reliably generated by veneration of them.
    Nor does anyone build monuments to enshrine them. etc.
    And does circling the stupa provide more than a useful pause from the monotony of the journey? Are there signs saying which lama we are rounding?
    Any views?

  6. The cult of saints is an interesting phenomenon, and keeping of relics is not confined to Catholicism (For instance, what do you think is supposed to be at the base of every Buddhist stupa?) The theft of relics supposedly went out of style a while back (there is an excellent book on the subject of relic theft in the Middle Ages, Patrick Geary’s “Furta Sacra”) — my first thought when I heard about this on the radio was that it must be a targeted, special order theft, as Prof. T mentioned. The thief obviously knew what s/he wanted.

    For those mystified by this keeping of relics, how different is it from buying one of of John Lennon’s teeth, or any similar fetishes (http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/john-lennons-tooth-weird-celebrity-items-auction/story?id=14793837#.T1T7RIf3rE0), or, for that matter, from keeping the ashes of a loved one on your mantel — or visiting a loved one’s grave?

  7. Hey, if they need a replacement I got a couple of those in my basement – I think they are stored behind the 1,293 pieces of the one true cross and the box-o-nails. I can let you have a good deal on one of them hearts if you agree to buy one of the grails I have on special this week.

  8. I have read on special feast day the blood actually reconstituted….. I have no personal knowledge of the same….. But, I will not dispute that if a belief is strong enough you may move mountains….. I just need a shovel…..

  9. What in blazes can you do with a human heart in a box? What in blazes was the heart even kept by the Church? Sick actions by both sides.

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