Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A Memoir of St. Laurence O'Toole

From Dalton's Memoirs of the Archbishops of Dublin (1838, p. 51ff.):

Succ 1162 Ob 1180

Laurence O'Toole the truly illustrious individual who succeeded to this high preferment was the youngest son of the hereditary lord or petty prince of the territory of Imaile the head of one of the septs eligible to the kingdom of Leinster and which maintained the privilege of electing the bishops and abbots of Glendalough even for centuries after that see was de jure united to that of Dublin. His father's principality was situated in the district of Wicklow to which he was also attached in the maternal line his mother having been of the O'Byrnes a family equally revered in the memory of their countrymen. In the depth of the romantic valley of the two lakes which gave name to the see of Glendalough and where the ruins of its little city and cathedral are still traceable there was at this period one of those schools for which Ireland was justly celebrated and within its walls the pious Laurence imbibed the rudiments of his education and the principles of his religion. At the early age of ten his acquirements elevated him considerably above the ordinary class of his contemporaries and the infant ardour of his patriotism so manifested itself that when at that period his father participated in the oppressive hostilities with which Dermot Mac Murrough visited the most worthy of the chieftains of Leinster the heartless tyrant could only be induced to avert the worst inflictions of his cruel power on receiving as a hostage from the father's hands the son of his heart and hopes.

No sooner had Dermot possessed himself of this already celebrated boy than he subjected him to the first lessons of the persecution he was fated to endure and with a fiendish cruelty in thorough consistence with the character which even his Welch allies afterwards attributed to him he is said to have confined his victim in a barren unsheltered spot and only allowed him such a quality and quantity of food as might preserve an existence for tyranny to excruciate. The distracted parent when he heard of his son's sufferings knowing that entreaty would be responded with mockery and increased barbarity by some successful sally from his mountain holds captured twelve of Mac Murrough's soldiers whom he threatened instantly to immolate unless his son was restored to his home. The threat was effective and in the valley of Glendalough Laurence was once more received in a father's embrace. The secluded and melancholy appearance of this scene surrounded as it is by almost perpendicular mountains on all sides but the east where alone it opens like a vast temple of nature to the rising day early marked it as the more peculiar retreat of holiness and must have greatly influenced the determination of the redeemed boy who thereupon again applied himself to his studies in the place where his rudiments were imbibed and ultimately resigning the prospects of his birth and inheritance devoted his great talents to the service of religion and exhibited such eminent proofs of his knowledge devotion purity and high morality that in the twenty fifth year of his age at the importunity of the clergy and people of the district he was advanced to preside over that abbey whose ruins still affect the observer with inexpressible reverence and if not forming the most imposing feature at Glendalough at least powerfully deepen its interest. His charity to the poor at this time is much commemorated especially during a period of remarkable scarcity which miserably afflicted that part of the country during four successive years nor is it to be overlooked that by the rectitude of his conduct throughout this interval of his life he confounded the efforts of calumny and by the firm but merciful superin tendance of the district under his charge converted it from a wicked waste to moral cultivation. The result was to himself as might be expected and when the bishop of the see Gilda na Naomh died Laurence was at once selected by a grateful people to fill the vacant dignity. He however utterly declined this honour wisely and prudently excusing himself by reason of the fewness of his years. Providence reserved him for a more exalted and useful sphere of action and on the death of Gregory Archbishop of Dublin which soon afterwards occurred he was elected the successor a promotion which he would also have declined but was ultimately induced to accept by earnest representations of the good he might thus effectuate. He was accordingly consecrated in Christ Church Dublin in the year 1152 by Gelasius Archbishop of Armagh assisted by many bishops the people offering up the thanksgivings of their hearts and from that period the custom of sending the bishops of the Irish cities which the Danes had occupied to Canterbury for consecration was utterly discontinued.

In the following year Archbishop O'Toole engaged the secular clergy of his cathedral of the Holy Trinity to receive the rule of the regular canons of Aroasia an abbey which was founded in the diocese of Arras about eighty years previously and had acquired such a reputation for sanctity and exemplary discipline that it became the head or mother church of a numerous congregation. The better to recommend this change the archbishop himself assumed the habit of that order which he thenceforth always wore under his pontifical attire and equally submitted himself to their mortifications and rules of living. Although he studiously avoided all popular applause yet his continued charity to the poor could not be concealed. He caused every day sometimes sixty sometimes forty paupers to be fed in his presence besides many whom he otherwise relieved he entertained the rich with suitable splendour yet never himself tasted the luxuries of the table and as frequently as his duties would permit retreated to the scene of his early sanctity where in the cave still shewn as the labour of St Kevin's self inflictions removed from human intercourse he indulged himself in holy thinkings.

In 1167 he assisted at the council which King Roderic convened at Athboy and which in the mixed grades of those who attended it greatly resembled a Saxon Wittenagemote. Thither according to the Annals of the Four Masters came the comorb of Patrick, Catholicus O'Dufly Archbishop of Connaught, Laurence O'Toole Archbishop of Leinster, Tiernan O'Rourke Lord of Brefny, Donough O'Carrol Lord of Uriel, the son of the King of Ulad Dermod O'Melaghlin King of Tara Raynal Mac Raynal Lord of the Danes, Donough O'Faolan Chief of the Desies &c. The complement of the whole so collected was 6000 of Connaught 4000 with O'Rourke 2000 with O'Melaghlin 4000 with O'Carrol and the son of the King of Ulad 2000 with Donough O'Faolan and 1000 with the Danes of Dublin. The political object of this assembly was to obtain more indisputable acknowledgments of the sovereignty of Roderic and to calculate what aid and support he might expect in case of the then expected invasion of Dermot Mac Murrough's auxiliaries. The council did not however separate without passing many good ordinances touching the privileges of churches and clergy and the regulation of public morality and religious discipline Archbishop Laurence also presided as legate at a clerical convocation held at Clonfert in 1170 by commission from the Pope. Upon the first invasion of the Welch adventurers he adhered firmly to the independence of his country and encouraged the inhabitants of Dublin to a vigorous defence against the invaders they however daunted by the martial appearance and disciplined array of Strongbow's forces before their walls entreated the prelate rather to become the mediator of a peace to effectuate which he passed out into the lines of the besiegers but while the terms of surrender were yet under discussion. Raymond le Gros and Milo de Cogan with a party of young and fiery spirits scaled the walls and at once possessed themselves of the city with frightful carnage. The charity of Archbishop O'Toole was eminently exercised on this occasion. At the hazard of his life he traversed the streets of the metropolis protesting against the ruin he could not control snatching the panting bodies from the grasp of the invader he administered to the dying the last consolations of religion to the dead the hasty service of a grave and to the wants and wounds of the wretched survivors all that their necessities could require or his means afford.

In 1171 Hasculph the Danish Governor of Dublin whom the English had expelled from the city arrived in its harbour to reassert his rights with thirty ships in his train and a numerous force commanded by John Wood from the Isle of Man and the islands of the North and described in the Irish Annals as well appointed after the Danish manner with brigandines jacks and coats of mail their shields bucklers and targets round and coloured red and bound about with iron Archbishop Laurence on this occasion considering that much national good might result from opposing the power of the new invaders by that of the old became most zealous in his appeals to the native princes to promote Hasculph's project and his devoted patriotism and the sanctity of his character gave great weight to his exhortations. The people rose in arms to his call collected all their strength surrounded Dublin by land while the Dane occupied the harbour and threatened the hitherto victorious Strongbow with total annihilation From the height of the citadel he beheld with alarm the allied natives at last united in the defence of their country and extending their lines from sea to sea around him Roderic was encamped at Castleknock whence his army extended to the ancient town of Finglas O'Rourke and the petty prince of Ulster mingled their forces along the strand of Clontarf the Lord of Hy Kin selagh occupied the opposite shores of Dalkey while the Chief of Thomond advanced so near as Kilmainham to the walls of the metropolis and even Archbishop Laurence communicated the inspiration of his character to this cause and gliding amidst the ranks of war animated the several septs of his countrymen to the assertion of their common liberties. Within the city were Earl Strongbow Maurice Fitzgerald Raymond le Gros the Achilles of the invasion Milo de Cogan Richard de Cogan and some other chosen chieftains but their scanty soldiery bore a fearful comparison in numbers with the host that were to oppose them and Strongbow in the prudence of necessity withheld them from any encounter that might but reveal their weakness It was the crisis of Ireland's destinies but her monarch was not equal to the emergency. During two months these warriors patiently endured the closest blockade but after that interval a privation of food so grievous that according to Regan a measure of wheat was sold for a mark and one of barley for half a mark threatened the garrison with the most terrific species of death In this emergency rather than pine under the lingering infliction of famine they loudly implored their commanders to lead them against the enemy and afford them at least the glorious consolation of dying on the field of battle In aggravation of their despair and the imminence of their fate came fearful accounts of the state of Fitz Stephen and his followers in Wexford. A council was thereupon held and an ineffectual effort having been made under its direction to obtain favourable terms by negotiation it was resolved without further delay to sally on the besiegers. The garrison was accordingly divided into three companies Raymond le Gros with 200 knights took the vanguard Milo de Cogan with as many more kept the centre and Strongbow with Maurice Fitz Gerald and 200 knights and soldiers composed the rear sufficient numbers being left to guard and secure the city. Early on the following morning when the natives were least expecting an assault the appointed detachments impatiently sallied from the city and falling on the wing of Roderic's army completely broke down any opposition it was able to offer and following up their advantage along the monarch's line slew without mercy even until the fall of night when they returned to the city wearied by their bloody victory but much enriched with spoils and with what was then even more welcome ample stores of provisions Roderic himself narrowly escaped being taken prisoner. The native chieftains fled in every direction and the allies from the isles took to sea without another effort Hasculph himself however was taken prisoner as he was hurrying to his ship and having when brought before the English leader expressed himself in terms deemed unbecoming and certainly imprudent in a captive was instantly ordered to execution Milo de Cogan was thereupon re instated in the government of Dublin and Strongbow marched with his adherents to the relief of Fitz Stephen in Wexford. The political exertions of the archbishop were not however paralyzed by these unexpected discomfitures. With unwearied zeal he still laboured to organize an effective opposition against Strongbow and his followers but the arrival of King Henry the Second at Waterford in the October following with considerable forces having given a new character to the invasion and most of the leading men of Ireland having submitted to him Laurence together with the principal archbishops bishops and abbots of the country repaired to that city and in obedience to the bull of Pope Adrian then for the first time exhibited respectively submitted themselves to him the English king as their temporal lord and ruler. In the Christmas following Archbishop Laurence assisted at the synod convened at Cashel by the king's orders wherein several canons were established for the prevention of marriages within certain degrees of kindred the more solemn administration of baptism the due payment of parochial tithes the immunity of church lands and of the clergy from secular exactions the distribution of the property of deceased persons according to their wishes solemnly avowed before death or an equitable division in case of no such avowal the administration of the last rites to the dying the regulation of burials and the conformity of divine service in Ireland with that of the Church of England while it is very remarkable that notwithstanding the great reform which it was alleged the Irish nation required not only were all the bishops and ecclesiastics who were present on that occasion natives with the exception of three Henry's immediate chaplain and advisers but it was actually not deemed necessary to make any canons at this synod relative to religious doctrine or even the more essential points of discipline and some of the decrees are evidently of a political rather than an ecclesiastical tendency.

About the year 1173 this prelate gave the amiable example not only of Christian forgiveness but yet more of that cordiality with which persons most opposed in politics should concur in the cause of religion and charity and co operating with Strongbow Robert Fitz Stephen and Raymond le Gros undertook the enlargement of Christ Church and accordingly at their own charges erected the choir the steeple and two chapels one dedicated to St Edmund king and martyr and to St Mary and the other to St Laud. He adhered however not the less faithfully to the fallen fortunes of his former sovereign and as zealously but more peaceably endeavoured to uphold them as far as circumstances would now permit. Accordingly in 1175 when Roderic O Conor was reduced to narrow his negotiations and exertions to the sole object of securing the sovereignty of his own province of Connaught he despatched Catholicus Archbishop of Tuam, the Abbot of St Brandan, and Archbishop Laurence styled in the treaty Roderic's chancellor to wait upon King Henry at Windsor where he held his court. There these emissaries concluded that remarkable treaty which is yet extant and in which the contracting parties are both named kings Henry of England and Roderic of Connaught. It was on this occasion Archbishop O'Toole visited the shrine of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury and as the writer of his life says narrowly escaped death from an insane individual who conceived he would do a meritorious action by murdering the prelate and assimilating his fate with that of Becket Accordingly he rushed upon him as he was celebrating mass beat him down and inflicted grievous wounds upon his head. When the archbishop recovered the king on hearing of the circumstance would have punished the attempt by the death of the offender but the archbishop interceded for his life which was spared accordingly.

In 1176 when the remains of Strongbow were deposited in the church he had so lately beautified and enlarged when the proud invader was let down into the grave amidst a population whose homes he had desolated Archbishop Laurence presided at the solemn rites that close the enmities of man and mingle with the better recollections of the dead the hopes and prayers that point to everlasting life yet with what deep reflections must he have witnessed the clay thrown over that cold corse that was once animated with such an adventurous spirit the narrow home of him who was the prominent actor in the catastrophe of a nation whose successful ambition had triumphed over the independence of Ireland subverted its ancient constitution dissolved the privileges of its families confined its monarch within a portion of the remotest province of his former kingdom and erected out of the remainder palatinates and baronies yet in the words of William of Newbridge carried to the grave no part of those spoils he coveted so eagerly in life putting to risk even his eternal salvation to amass them but at last leaving to unthankful heirs all he had acquired through so much toil and danger affording by his fate a salutary lesson to mankind.

In 1177 Cardinal Vivian presided as legate at a council in Dublin where the right of the King of England to the sovereignty of Ireland in virtue of the Pope's authority was further inculcated. There is no positive evidence however that Archbishop Laurence took part in this proceeding although he appears in other transactions conjointly with Vivian during his stay in Ireland. In 1178 he granted and confirmed to the church of the Holy Trinity those of St Michan, St Michael, St John the Evangelist, St Brigid, St Paul and all the profits of the mills which the said church was known to possess without the walls near the bridge and the fishery with the tithes of salmon and of all other fishes on either side of the water course of the Liffey and all the lands of Ratheny, Portrane, Rathsillan, Kinsaly, the third part of Cloghney, the third part of Killallin, Lisluan, Killester, Duncuanach, Glasnevin, Magdunia, St Doulogh's, Ballymacamleib, Cloncoen, Tallagh, Tullaghcoen, Killingincleam, Kiltinan, Rathsalaghan, Tullaghnaescope, Drumhing, Ballyrochaican, half of Rathmihi, Tiradran, Ballyrochan, and Ballymoailph, with all their appurtenances for ever.

In 1179 this archbishop with some other Irish prelates proceeded to Rome to assist at the General Council then held there being the second Council of Lateran. King Henry however before he would permit them to pass through his dominions exacted from them a solemn oath not to prejudice him or his empire in the progress of their mission. On Laurence's arrival at Rome he obtained a bull from thepope confirming the dioceses of Glendalough, Kildare, Ferns, Leighlin, and Ossory to his metropolitical authority and further assuring to his own see its lands and possessions as therein most fully detailed. The Pope also created him legate of Ireland in virtue of which commission according to his biographers he afterwards on his return exercised legatine authority in his native country.

In 1180 according to Hoveden and Benedict he again passed out of Ireland entrusted by the unfortunate Roderic to place that prince's son as an hostage with the English king then sojourning in Normandy as was stipulated in the before mentioned treaty of Windsor. There the archbishop was detained by the king whose displeasure he had incurred as Cambrensis alleges by having through zeal for his country's service made some harsh representations at Rome of the Anglo Irish Government and obtained from the Pope privileges derogatory of the royal dignity. But as all history evinces that this patriotic prelate discharged the duties of his high clerical station in the most exemplary manner and even yielded his political antipathies to the necessities of the times it may be naturally concluded that his remonstrances and authority were only such as justice would warrant and directed against the barbarity of the adventurers of the day.

Such honest representations of the encroachments they would have made in temporal and spiritual property should be fairly considered as so far from violating Laurence's engagement to Henry that in reality the honest interest of the English crown could not be better advanced than by the suppression of the wanton outrages he vainly witnessed It was by the disregard of his expostulations that a host of needy adventurers were endowed in Ireland and a government founded within the pale of that devoted country which was felt only in its power to do injustice.

Well had it been if the consequences of that misrule had died with the tyrants who first perpetrated it Unfortunately however for the generations of ages the acts of those detached and licentious chiefs were permitted to assume the name of English administration and bigotries were engendered and hatreds associated which only the nineteenth century is dissolving Archbishop Laurence lived to see his country the patrimony of strangers but to the last hour of his he laboured to avert the evils of that dispensation and to place a country whose intestine made it incapable and unworthy of independence under the lawful protection of England's not the fickle despotism of alien Palatines the midst however of the ill merited restraints upon him it was too fatally evinced that banishment from his country accelerated his dissolution.

In Normandy the sickness fell upon him and conscious that the hour of his demise was approaching he retired into the monastery of Regular Canons at Eu on the confines of that province anxious to close his life within its peaceful walls and amidst the brethren of his favourite order. Yet even in the sacred reflections of that moment the afflictions of his country lived in his remembrance from his death bed he is recorded as having sent a monk of the fraternity to the camp of Henry to implore peace for Ireland and when some token of assent was given by the King and communicated to the prelate it mingled with the hopes of a dying Christian and he sunk into his last repose on the 14th of November 1180.

Immediately after his burial which took place at Eu King Henry despatched Jeoffrey de la Hay his chaplain into Ireland to seize the revenues of the see which he held over for nearly one year. The remains of Archbishop Laurence were at first placed in a shrine before the altar of the martyr Leodegarius but when the prelate was canonized in 1218 by Pope Honorius the Third they were with great solemnity translated and placed over the high altar where they were long preserved in a silver shrine.

The abbey that was sanctified by his death was on his canonization dedicated anew to him and his festival has continued to be celebrated there yearly with one office of nine lessons as it is also observed in Ireland under the particular sanction of a decree of Pope Benedict the Fourteenth Cherish in your memory says that pontiff addressing the archbishops and bishops of Ireland. Cherish in your memory St Patrick the apostle of Ireland whom our predecessor St Celestine sent to you of whose apostolic mission and preaching such an abundant harvest has grown that Ireland before his time idolatrous was suddenly called and deservedly is the Island of Saints cherish in your memory St Malachy Archbishop of Armagh whose ardour for the conversion of souls St Bernard has depicted in the boldest colouring. He stood forth undaunted in every manner prepared to convert the wolves into sheep to admonish in public to convince in private to touch the chords of the heart boldly or gently as suited the subject. Traversing the country he sought the aspirations which he might turn to the service of the true God neither was he carried by horse but on foot like an apostle he performed his mission. And yet with even more sincerity cherish in your memory St Laurence the Archbishop of Dublin whom born as he was of royal blood our predecessor Alexander the Third in the Council of Lateran selected as his legate apostolic for Ireland and whom Honorius the Third alike our predecessor afterwards canonized whence you may well know what services that saintly man rendered to his flock. But if yet more we were to exhort you to cherish in your memory the very holy men Columbanus, Kilian, Virgil, Rumold, St Gall, and the many others who coming out of Ireland carried the true faith over the provinces of the continent or established it with the blood of their martyrdom we should far exceed the limits of a letter. Suffice it to commend to you to bear in memory the religion and the piety of those that have preceded you and the solicitude for the duties of their station which has established their everlasting glory and happiness.

In reference to his personal appearance St Laurence is represented as having been tall and graceful in stature of a comely presence and in his outward habit grave but rich. His life published by Surius is said to have been written by Ralph of Bristol Bishop of Kildare in the commencement of the thirteenth century and a correct copy thereof is reported to be in Archbishop Ussher's collection in Trinity College Dublin. The biography from which the chief facts above related have been selected was written by a brother of the monastery of Eu and is published in Messingham's Florilegium. It but remains to mention that in the Roman Catholic church St Laurence is the patron saint of the diocese of Dublin.