Abbey without true cross relic will ‘never be the same’

Sian Moloughney

Sian Moloughney

A relic of the true cross of Jesus Christ, which has attracted pilgrims to Holy Cross Abbey since the 12th century, has been stolen in a daring, daylight robbery, by masked men.

The religious relic, which has been a focus of faith and prayer for 900 years, was taken in its silver cross casing, last Tuesday afternoon.

In the outrageous robbery, the thieves are believed to have walked into the Abbey and used a portable angle grinder, a hammer and a screwdriver to gain access to the steel display cabinet that held the cross, which gives the Abbey its name.

Parishioners and the local religious community have reacted with shock and outrage. Leading the appeals for the return of the sacred relic is Archbishop Dermot Clifford, who said the Abbey will never be the same unless the relic is returned.

Archbishop Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, has appealed to those who stole the relic of the true cross from Holy Cross Abbey to return it immediately.

“The sacred relic is a portion of the true cross upon which Our Lord was crucified. The high profile of Holy Cross Abbey rests primarily on its possession of this relic. The relic has attracted many pilgrims and other visitors to the Abbey down the centuries and is still a source of attraction to the present day. The unlawful removal of this relic is regarded as an outrage by the people of faith who value its spiritual and historic importance.”

The Archbishop said that the church community is extremely upset at the loss of what is an “irreplaceable and sacred relic.”

“While it is not of great material value, it holds significant spiritual meaning for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly and beyond. Holy Cross Abbey will never be the same again unless and until the relic is returned.

“I strongly appeal to the people who stole this sacred relic to return it to any church or religious house without delay. I urge anyone with information on this theft, regardless of how small, to report it to An Garda Síochána. I ask the faithful everywhere to pray for the safe return of this relic of the Holy Cross.”

Gardai believe three people were involved in the robbery - two men who were seen walking into the Abbey with tools, and a third ‘getaway’ driver. The vehicle is described as a red or wine coloured Volkswagen Touareg with a 06 registration plate. The car was driven towards Yellow Lough near Thurles, where it was set on fire.

Local priest, Fr Tom Breen, believes that an incident in which keys were stolen from the Abbey’s sacristy, in the days leading up to the robbery, may be connected.

Two crosses were stolen in the raid - one made of silver and containing the relic of the true cross, and the other made from gold and bronze.

The first cross is the ‘holy cross,’ and is described as approximately 12 inches in height, hanging from a chain and containing two crosses and two dark stones. It was made from silver and is estimated to date from the 14th Century.

A second cross taken in the raid is approximately 12 inches in height and standing on its own base approximately .75 inches in diameter. The cross contained a centrepiece that could hold the Host. This cross was made from gold and bronze.

Pope Paschal II gave this relic of the true cross to the O’Brien Kings of Thomond in recognition for their support for the Catholic Church. The O’Brien Kings gave the relic to the Benedictine Monastery of Thurles. The Cistercian Order took over the monastery in 1180 and the Order protected the relic until the monastery was suppressed during the Reformation. In 1801 the relic was given to the Ursuline Sisters in Blackrock, Co Cork, by Bishop Francis Moylan.

This relic and its case were presented to Holy Cross Abbey at the time of its restoration by the late Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Archbishop Thomas Morris, in 1975.

Pilgrims – since the beginning of the 12th Century – have come from all over the country to venerate the relic. It would appear that possession of the relic motivated the 15th Century reconstruction of the Abbey.