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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

November 14

St. Laurence, Archbishop of Dublin, Confessor

        From his life authentically written by a regular canon of Eu, not many years after his death, in Surius: Chron. Rotomag. F. Fontenai, Contin. de l’Hist. de l’Eglise de France, l. 31, p. 46, &c.

A.D. 1180.

LAURENCE 1 was youngest son to Maurice O’Toole, 2 a rich and powerful prince in Leinster, whose ancestors for many ages had been princes of the territories of Hy-Murray, and Hy-Mal, in the vicinity of Dublin. Laurence was but ten years old when his father delivered him up a hostage to Dermod Mac Murchad, king of Leinster. 3 The barbarous king kept the child in a desert place, where he was treated with great inhumanity; till his father being informed that by such usage his son had fallen into a bad state of health, obliged the tyrant to put him into the hands of the pious bishop of Glendaloch, 4 by whom he was carefully instructed in the service of God, and at twelve years of age sent back to his father. Maurice took Laurence with him, and went to thank the good bishop. At the same time he mentioned to that prelate his design of casting lots which of his four sons he should destine to the service of the church. Laurence, who was present, was justly startled at such a mad superstitious project, but glad to find so favourable an overture to his desires, cried out with great earnestness: “There is no need of casting lots. It is my most hearty desire to have for my inheritance no other portion than God in the service of the church.” Hereupon the father, taking him by the hand, offered him to God by delivering him to the bishop, in whose hands he left him, having first recommended him to the patronage of St. Coëmgen, founder of the great monastery there, and patron of that diocess, which has been since united to the see of Dublin. The good prelate performed excellently the part of an Ananias to his pupil, who, by his fidelity in corresponding with the divine grace, deserved to find the Holy Ghost an interior master in all virtues, especially humility and the spirit of prayer.
  Upon the death of the bishop of Glendaloch, who was at the same time abbot of the monastery, Laurence, though but twenty-five years old, was chosen abbot, and only shunned the episcopal dignity by alleging that the canons require in a bishop thirty years of age. The saint governed his numerous community with admirable virtue and prudence, and in a great famine which raged during the first four months of his administration, like another Joseph, was the saviour of his country by his boundless charities. Trials, however, were not wanting for the exercise of his virtue. For certain false brethren whose eyes could not bear the refulgency of his virtue, the regularity of his conduct, and the zeal with which he condemned their disorders, attacked his reputation by slanders, to which he opposed no other arms than silence and patience.  2
  Gregory, the archbishop of Dublin, 5 happening to die about the time that our saint was thirty years of age, he was unanimously chosen to fill that metropolitical see, and was consecrated in 1162, by Gelasius, archbishop of Armagh, and successor of St. Malachy. In this exalted station he watched over himself and his flock with fear, and with unwearied application to every part of his office, having always before his eyes the account which he was to give to the sovereign pastor of souls. His first care was to reform the manners of his clergy, and to furnish his church with worthy ministers. His exhortations to others were most powerful, because enforced with sweetness and vigour, animated with an apostolic spirit, and strongly impressed by the admirable example of his own life, which every one who had any sparks of piety in his breast, was ashamed to see himself fall so infinitely short of. About the year 1163, he engaged the secular canons of his cathedral of the Holy Trinity, 6 to receive the rule of the regular canons of Arouasia, an abbey which was founded in the diocess of Arras about fourscore years before, with such reputation for sanctity and discipline, that it became the head or mother house of a numerous congregation. Our saint took himself the religious habit, which he always wore under his pontifical attire. He usually ate with the religious in the refectory, observed their hours of silence, and always assisted with them at the midnight office; after which he continued a long time in the church in private prayer before a crucifix, and towards break of day went to the burial-place to pour forth certain prayers for the souls of the faithful departed. He never ate flesh, and fasted all Fridays, on bread and water, and oftentimes without taking any sustenance at all. He wore a rough hair shirt, and used frequent disciplines. Every day he entertained at table thirty poor persons, and often many more, besides great numbers which he maintained in private houses. All found him a father both in their temporal and spiritual necessities; and he was most indefatigable in the sacred functions of his charge, especially in announcing assiduously to his flock the word of life. To watch over, and examine more narrowly into his own heart and conduct, and to repair his interior spirit, he used often to retire for some days into some close solitude. When he was made bishop, King Dermod Mac Murchad preferred to the abbey of Glendaloch, one so notoriously unworthy of that dignity, that he was in a short time expelled, and Thomas, a nephew of the saint, by whom he had been brought up, was canonically elected. By the care of this young, pious, and learned abbot, discipline and piety again flourished in that house. And from that time St. Laurence frequently made choice of Glendaloch for his retreats; but he usually hid himself in a solitary cave at some distance from the monastery, between a rock and a deep lake, in which St. Coëmgen had lived. When our saint came out of those retreats he seemed like another Moses coming from conversing with God, full of a heavenly fire and divine light.  3
  St. Laurence found the greater part of his flock so blinded with the love of the world, and enslaved to their passions, that the zealous pains he took seemed lost upon them. He threatened them with the divine judgments in case they did not speedily and effectually reform their manners by sincere repentance: but, like Noë when he preached to a world drowned in sin, he seemed to them to speak in jest, till they were overtaken on a sudden by those calamities which he had foretold, which served to purify the elect, and, doubtless, brought many who before had been deaf to the saint’s remonstrances, to a sense of their spiritual miseries. Dermod Mac Murchad, king of Leinster, having violated the wife of Tigernan O’Ruarc, (prince of Breffny and occasional administrator of Meath,) Tordelvach O’Connor, then monarch of Ireland, took cognizance of the injury, and obliged the violator to restore that princess to her family, together with her effects. So slight a reparation of a public as well as domestic crime, involved bad consequences. Dermod, growing daring from impunity, became intolerable to his vassals, whom he despoiled by various acts of tyranny, and Roderic, the son and successor of Tordelvach on the throne of Ireland, was put under the necessity of expelling him from his government of Leinster. To gratify his revenge, and regain his former power, Dermod solicited the aid of Henry II. king of England, a very powerful monarch, who scrupled not to permit some of his subjects to join their arms to the tyrant’s. The times were favourable to that attempt, and the adventurers found but a weak resistance from a monarch ill obeyed and from a people divided by internal factions. Dermod’s success in this event was principally due to Richard earl of Pembroke, commonly called Strongbow, who brought with him several noblemen, with the best soldiers among their vassals; and, having landed at Waterford, overran the greater part of Leinster and Ossory. Dermod dying in 1171, the earl of Pembroke being left his heir, claimed the principality of Leinster, (in right of his wife, Eva, who was Dermod’s daughter,) took Dublin sword in hand, and massacred a great number of the inhabitants. In this dreadful disaster the good pastor was employed in relieving the distressed, in imploring for them the compassion of the conquerors, and in inducing the sufferers at least to make a good use of their afflictions. This invasion of Ireland was begun by private noblemen, whose success gave umbrage to the court, and King Henry II. commanded Strongbow and his associates to return to England: but they declared they only conquered Ireland in his name. Whereupon, he went thither, and, in 1171, received at Dublin the homage of some of the princes and petty kings, and was acknowledged by them lord and sovereign of Ireland. Some time after this, St. Laurence was obliged, for the affairs of his church, to go over to England, in order to make application to King Henry II. who happened then to be at Canterbury. St. Laurence repaired thither, and was received by the monks at Christ Church with the honour due to his sanctity, and desired by them to sing high mass next day. That whole night he spent in prayer before the shrine of St. Thomas, to whose intercession he recommended himself and the business which brought him thither. On the day following, as he was going up to the altar to officiate, a madman who had heard much of his sanctity, out of an extravagant notion of making so holy a man a martyr, and another St. Thomas, gave him so violent a blow on the head with a staff, as knocked him down. All that were present concluded that he was mortally wounded, and expressed their concern by their tears. But the saint, coming to himself again, called for water, which he blessed with the sign of the cross, and then directed the wound to be washed with it. This was no sooner done but the blood was immediately stanched, and the saint said mass. To this miracle, the author of his life, who was then at Canterbury, was an eye-witness, and assures us that the fracture was to be seen in the saint’s skull after his death. The king ordered the franatic assassin to be hanged; but the holy prelate interceded in his favour, and obtained his pardon.  4
  The third general council of Lateran was held at Rome, in 1179, by Pope Alexander III. with three hundred bishops, for the reformation of manners, and the extirpation of heretical errors. St. Laurence went on from England to Rome, and, with the archbishop of Tuam, five other Irish, and four English bishops, assisted at this council. Our saint laid before his holiness the state of the Irish Church, and begged that effectual remedies might be applied to many disorders which reigned in that country, and care taken for preserving the liberties of that national church. The pope was wonderfully pleased with his wise and zealous proposals, and so satisfied of his virtue and prudence, that he readily made the regulations which the saint desired, and appointed him legate of the holy see in the kingdom of Ireland. As soon as the saint was returned home, he began vigorously to execute his legatine power, by reforming the manners of the clergy, and making wholesome regulations. He found the whole country afflicted with a terrible famine which continued to rage for three years. The saint laid himself under an obligation of feeding every day fifty strangers, and three hundred poor persons of his own diocess, besides many others whom he furnished with clothes, victuals, and the other necessaries of life. Several mothers who were reduced so low as not to be able to keep their own children, laid them at the bishop’s door, or in other places where he would see them, and the saint took care of them all: sometimes he provided for three hundred of them together.  5
  Henry II. king of England, was offended at Roderic, the Irish monarch, 7 and our saint undertook another journey into England to negotiate a reconciliation between them. Henry would not hear of a peace, and immediately after the saint’s arrival, set out for Normandy. Laurence retired to the monastery of Abingdon; and, after staying there three weeks, followed him into France. Henry who had always repulsed him, was at length so much moved by his piety, prudence, and charity, that he granted him every thing he asked, and left the whole negotiation to his discretion. It was only to obtain this, that charity had made the saint desire to remain longer upon earth. Having discharged his commission, he was obliged, by a fever which seized him upon the road, to stop his journey. He took up his quarters in the monastery of regular canons at Eu, upon the confines of Normandy, an abbey depending upon that of St. Victor’s in Paris. Going into this house he recited that verse of the psalmist: This is my resting-place for ever: in this place will I dwell, because I have chosen it. He made his confession to the abbot, and received the viaticum and extreme-unction from his hands. To one who put him in mind to make a will, he answered with a smile: “Of what do you speak? I thank God I have not a penny left in the world to dispose of.” Indeed, whatever he possessed always became immediately the treasure of the poor. The saint died happily on the 14th of November in 1180, and was buried in the church of the abbey. Theobald, archbishop of Rouen, and three other commissioners, by order of Pope Honorius III. took juridical informations of several miracles wrought at the tomb, through the intercession of the servant of God, and sent an authentic relation to Rome: and Honorius published the bull of his canonization, in 1226, in which he mentions that seven dead persons had been raised by him to life. This archbishop, in 1227, caused his body to be taken up and enshrined, forty-two years after his death. The abbey of our Lady at Eu still possesses the greater part of his relics, though some churches at Paris and elsewhere have been enriched with certain portions.  6
  The saintly deportment, the zeal, the prayers, and the miracles of St. Laurence were not able to awaken many of those hardened sinners whom he laboured to convert. How few among the Jews, especially among the Pharisees, obeyed the voice of our Redeemer himself! If a pastor’s labours were constantly attended with easy success, he would meet with nothing for the exercise of his patience, by which he is to purchase his own crown, and perfect the sanctification of his soul. No degree of obstinacy, malice, or perverseness, must either disturb or discourage him. The greater the blindness, the more desperate the spiritual wounds of others are, the more tender ought his compassion to be, the greater his patience, and his earnestness in praying and labouring for their recovery and salvation. He is never to despair of any one, so long as the divine mercy still waits for his return. If opportunities of exhorting fail, or if charitable remonstrances only exasperate, so that prudence makes them unseasonable for a time, he ought never to cease earnestly importuning the Father of mercies in their behalf.  7
Note 1. The name given to the saint in baptism was Lorcan, Latinized Laurentius. [back]
Note 2. His name in the Irish was Muretach O’Tuathail. The saint’s mother was the daughter of O’Brian (now Byrne) a chieftain of an ancient family in Leinster, who continued in power till, through their inflexible adherence to the Catholic religion, and opposition to the puritans in the reign of Charles I. they were stript of power and property under Oliver Cromwell. [back]
Note 3. Not to Dermod O’Malachlin, king of Meath, as some have imagined; for this prince was killed in battle in 1130, when Laurence was scarcely six years old; and it is certain that Dermod had never exercised any authority in the province of Leinster, of which the territory of Hy-Murray (O’Toole’s hereditary district) was a part. Dermod’s government in Heath continued but three years, and he held it upon a very precarious footing, in opposition to a strong faction who adhered to the interest of Murchad, his father, deposed in 1127, and restored to his former authority over Meath, after the death of his son.
  The monarchy of Ireland, which continued near six hundred years under the Hy-Nial race, was dissolved in 1022, on the decease of Malachy II. From that period to the entrance of Henry II. Ireland continued for the greater part of the time in a state of anarchy; some assuming the title of kings of Ireland, but exercising the regal power in the provinces only which acknowledged their authority. On the death of Malachy II. Donchad, the son of Brian Boroihme, took the title of King of Ireland; and some years before his departure for Rome, his son-in-law, Dermod Mac Malnambo, king of Leinster, assumed the same title. Their authority did not extend beyond a moiety of the kingdom. Donchad died in Rome in 1064, and Dermod was killed in the battle of Odba, in 1072, by Concovar O’Malachlin, king of Meath. To these princes succeeded Tordelvach O’Brian, the grandson of Brian Boroihme: his authority was acknowledged in the provinces of Leinster and the two Munsters; he was an excellent prince, and died a great penitent in 1086.
  After an interregnum of eight years, Murertach O’Brian, the son of Tordelvach, took the title of king of Ireland, and at the same time Donal Mac Loghlin, prince of Tyrone, was declared king of Ireland by the northern moiety of the kingdom. During a course of twenty-five years, the nation had been involved in a state of ruinous hostility between those princes. Another interregnum succeeded for fourteen years, at the end of which Tordelvach O’Conor, king of Connaught, assumed the title of king of Ireland. He was supported by powerful factions, and the southern provinces he reduced to his obedience by force of arms. He was reluctantly submitted to, and the more as none of his ancestors reigned over Ireland for 770 years before. He died in 1156, and was interred in Clonmacnois. Tordelvach was succeeded by a very valiant prince, Murertach Mac Loghlin, king of Tyrone, and his title being acknowledged through all the provinces in 1161, he reigned with an authority as extensive as that of any former king of Ireland. Blinded, however, with his power he made a very unjust invasion on the privileges of the people of Ulad, which cost him his life in the battle of Literluin, in 1166.
  Soon after that event a majority of the states had assembled in Dublin to provide a successor. In that convention Roderic, king of Connaught, was elected monarch; and no former king of Ireland was inaugurated with greater solemnity. The reluctant princes were soon brought to recognise his title. But it was a temporary submission to an authority, which, as it was obtained from the power of factious men rather than stated laws, could not be durable. Roderic reigned with splendour during the three first years of his government; till his country was invaded by Henry II. king of England, in October, 1171. The fallacious allegiance of most of his subjects was dissolved; and, through the negotiation of Laurence, archbishop of Dublin, he entered, in the year 1175, into a treaty with Henry, the best that could be obtained, but far from being honourable to himself, or, in its consequences, profitable to the nation. He died in Cong, in 1198, and was buried in his father’s tomb at Clonmacnois.
  Brian, who is said in the Irish peerage to have descended from Heberius, eldest son of Milesius, prince of Spain, was monarch of Ireland in 1014, and fought valiantly against the Danes. Roderic O’Connor, the last Irish monarch of Ireland, was not of the O’Brien family, but chief of the Connaught Hy-Brune race. Some writers have been deceived by a resemblance in the family names of O’Brien and Hy-Brune. From the sixth year of Henry III. the heads of the O’Brien family were usually styled kings of Thomond, or Limerick. The Irish peerage reckons twelve kings of Thomond of that family, after Ireland became subject to England. After the extinction of the title of king, Henry VIII. created the next heir, or supposed heir, of the O’Briens, earl of Thomond, which honour Edward VI. confirmed to his heirs.
  That the old Irish annalists delivered very little better than fables in their accounts, antecedent to Nial Naoigiallach in the fifth century, is out the bare conjecture of Sir James Ware. Tigernach and Cormac, king and archbishop of Munster in the ninth century, could inform him better; even his contemporary, Usher, might have undeceived him. But Ware was far from being a good antiquarian. He affirms, truly indeed, that the elective monarchs of Ireland died mostly by the sword: but this circumstance was owing to a capital defect in the civil constitution, which allowed too little power to the monarch, and too much to his inferior vassals. Some account of the ancient inhabitants and language of this country, is given under St. Palladius, on the 6th of July; St. Alto, the 5th of September, and at note under St. Remigius, the 1st of October. See also O’Connor’s Dissertations, Dublin, 1766; and his Dissert. on the Origin of the Scots, prefixed to Ogygia Vindicated, Dublin. 1775. [back]
Note 4. Glendaloch lies in the territory of Forthuatha, in the county of Wicklow. See an account of it in the Life of St. Coemgen, 3rd of June. [back]
Note 5. The ancient name of this city was Baile-Duibhlinne, Duibhlinne signifying black stream, from the muddy colour of the Liffey in time of flood. It has thence taken the several names of Divelin, Dyfelin, Dublinum, Dublinia, and by Ptolemy (or his interpolators) Eblana, a corruption of Dublina. It was also called Baile-atha-cliath, and is yet so called by the Irish, the words signifying the town of the Ford-hurdles, from the hurdles laid over a wooden bridge which kept the communication open between the provinces of Leinster and Meath. In ancient time the Irish made use of hurdles, with which they covered the beams and joists of wooden bridges, as the best substratum for the layers of earth and gravel, which rendered the passage very commodious. The ancient Irish annals mention several Baile-atha-cliaths distinguished by the adjunction of the territories to which they belonged: as Baile-atha-cliath Medry near Galway, Baile-atha-cliath Coran, near Baillimote in the county of Sligo, &c. From the time of the English settlement, Dublin has been the metropolis of the whole kingdom, the seat of the government and chief course of justice, and the second great city in the British empire.
  The Normans, called Ostmen or Easterlings, took possession of Dublin, A. D. 838, in the fifth year of the reign of Niall Calinne, king of Ireland, three hundred and thirty-four years before the town was given up to Henry II. king of England. No English monarch before him possessed a foot of ground in Ireland; and the prefatory lines to King Edgar’s diploma, in 964, are but the adulatory rant of his chancellor. The fiction is most gross, and (as Usher observes) hath no foundation whatever in the annals of England or Ireland. As Dublin had been thus occupied in the ninth century by heathen barbarians, and the Christians expelled, the succession of bishops was interrupted till the pagans were converted to the Catholic faith. The succession, therefore, until the conversion of the Normans, is not found entire in the Irish annals before Donatus, (Latinized from Dunan,) who was promoted in 1038, in the time of King Sitricus. However, (as Harris remarks,) it is not probable that St. Patrick, who established a church in Dublin, in the fifth century, would leave it without a bishop to preside over it, and thus deviate from his universal practice in other places. Moreover, we have mention made of St. Livinus in 633, who is honoured on the 12th of November; St. Wiro in 650 (or later) honoured the 8th of May; St. Rumold in 775, honoured the 1st of July; and Sedulius, styled abbot of Dublin, who died the 12th of February, 785. That these and other prelates had a fixed see at Dublin before the arrival of the Normans, we have no reason to doubt, nor have we any proof to the contrary.
  Donat was probably the first bishop of this see after the conversion of the infidels: he died in 1074. His successor, Gilla Patrick, was drowned at sea in 1084, and was succeeded by Dongus O’Haingly, who died in 1095 of a pestilence called Teasach. His successor, Samuel O’Haingly, died in 1121; and St. Celsus, bishop of Armagh, was appointed guardian of the spiritualites of the see of Dublin, before the election of Gregory, who died the 8th of October, 1161, and was succeeded by St. Laurence O’Toole. It was in the year 1152, nine years before Gregory’s death, that Cardinal John Paparo, legate of Pope Eugenius III. conferred on this see the archiepiscopal dignity, having brought from Rome four palls for four metropolitans in Ireland, and assigned respective suffragans to each. The four metropolitan sees are, Armagh in the province of Ulster, Dublin in Leinster, Cashel in Munster, and Tuam in Connaught. Between the two first a controversy had continued for a considerable time concerning precedence; but, according to Harris, it was at length finally determined both by papal and legal authority, that the archbishop of Armagh should be entitled Primate of all Ireland, and the archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland; like Canterbury and York in England. [back]
Note 6. This church was built for secular canons in the centre of the city by Sitricus, king of the Ostmen in Dublin, and Bishop Donat in 1038. The change made by St. Laurence continued until Henry VIII. in 1541, converted it into a dean and chapter; from which time it hath taken the name of Christ-Church; being before called the church of the Holy Trinity. The principal cathedral of Dublin is dedicated under the invocation of St. Patrick, and was built in the south suburbs of the city, by archbishop Comyn in 1190, on the same spot where an old parochial church had long stood, which was said to have been erected by St. Patrick. [back]
Note 7. This monarch is, by mistake, called Deronogus in Messingham’s Florilegium, p. 386. [back]