A Saint’s heart was stolen from an Ireland cathedral, an artifact that’s more than 900 years old.
Officials at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin said Sunday they’re distraught and perplexed over the theft of the church’s most precious relic: the preserved heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, patron saint of Dublin.
O’Toole’s heart had been displayed in the cathedral since the 13th century. It was stored in a heart-shaped wooden box and secured in a small, square iron cage on the wall of a chapel dedicated to his memory. On Saturday someone cut through two bars, pried the cage loose, and made off with the relic.
“I am devastated that one of the treasured artifacts of the cathedral is stolen,” said the Most Rev. Dermot Dunne, the cathedral’s dean. “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father.”
Ireland’s national police force, the Garda Siochana, said detectives were studying hours of closed-circuit TV footage to try to identify the 40 people who walked out the cathedral’s front doors Saturday morning.
The force said the thief may have hidden overnight in the cathedral and fled with the heart when its doors opened Saturday. Nobody was arrested.
Nuala Kavanagh, the cathedral’s director of operations, said nearby objects made of gold and other precious materials were not touched.
“It’s completely bizarre,” she said. “They didn’t touch anything else. They wanted the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole.”
Church services went ahead as normal Sunday. The trickle of tourists visiting the Viking-era cathedral weren’t told of the theft. Many approached the O’Toole chapel and spent time looking, confusedly, between their guidebooks and the pried-open box.
O’Toole was Dublin’s archbishop from 1162 to 1180 and gained a reputation as a skillful mediator between rival Gaelic and Norman factions then fighting for power in Ireland.
He died at age 58 while traveling in Normandy on another peace mission.
Pope Honorius III canonized O’Toole in 1225 on the weight of many claims of miracles at his original gravesite.
O’Toole’s heart had been the last surviving part of his remains.
His bones were reinterred in an English churchyard in 1442 but were dug up and disappeared during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
Although O’Toole is mainly revered by Roman Catholics, Christ Church Cathedral has been a center of worship for the Anglican-affiliated Church of Ireland since the Reformation.