The Ormond Relic and its special place at Holycross Abbey

Holycross - The Ormond Relic.

Holycross - The Ormond Relic.

This time a year ago there was great disquiet about the theft of the relic of the True Cross from Holycross Abbey. It was taken on 11-10-11 and to the delight of all it was restored and re-enshrined in the Abbey on the 12-2-12. Holycross got its name because the Cistercian monastery was founded there by Dónal Mór Ó Briain, King of Limerick, in 1182 AD to enshrine a relic of the True Cross which the Oʼ’Brien Clan owned. It was presented to them by Pope Paschal II because they had contributed to the reforming of the Irish Church in the 12th century.

However the principal relic in the Abbey is known as ʻThe Ormond Relicʼ. It was the one owned by the Butlers, The Earls of Ormond. The story of how they came to own such a precious relic is very much tied in with the history of Europe. By coincidence, in the folk story, The Good Womanʼs Son, the good woman is reputed to be Eleanor of Aquitaine, thewife of Henry II, King of England. However her name is more closely linked with the

Ormond Relic. Her son Richard the Lionheart was kidnapped on his way back from the Third Crusade in 1192 AD. He was held for ransom by the Austrians for two years. A large sum was raised which would today amount to £2 billion. The Butlers were instrumental in Richardʼ’s release and so in 1223 AD King John, Richardʼs brother presented the House of Ormond with a relic of the True Cross. We know the relic was in the Abbey in the 15th century. The reliquary that encases the wood of the Cross dates from this time. It is in the shape of a double cross, known as the Cross of Lorraine. On the four arms are engraved the symbols of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. On the main shaft of the case there are engravings of the Resurrected Christ, a crucifix and the Virgin and Child. At the bottom end of the Cross are the coats of arms of the Butlers and the de Burgos (Bourkes) the leading Norman family of the area.

The relic was in the possession of the Burlers following the dissolution of the monastery. The 11th Earl was Walter of the Rosaries, a catholic. His son had been drowned at sea and his grandson became ward of the king of England and was reared a protestant in London. Walter willed the relic to his physician, Dr. Fennell in February 1632. Two weeks later he was dead. The relic passed from one person to another. Dame Mary Kavanagh

Butler gave it to Bishop Moylan, of Cork. He presented it to the Ursuline nuns for safekeeping in 1801. The Ursuline Convent was the first to be established after the Penal Laws. Dame Mary’ʼs sister was a nun there. For 175 years they guarded the relic and on the request of Archbishop Morris it was returned to the restored Abbey of Holycross in 1975. In appreciation of the nunsʼ role and generosity Canon Lynch PP had the top half of

the wooden relic returned to the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock. This piece of the relic is enshrined there to this day.

There are two other relics associated with the Abbey. One is in Mount Melleray Abbey,Waterford. It came through the OʼFogarty relatives to Bishop Bray who presented it to the Melleray monks. The third relic is authenticated by Rome and is just a small splinter of wood. It is enshrined with the Ormond Relic and is used for the blessing of the sick at ceremonies in the Abbey.

There are many other stories attached to the Abbey as well as several interesting features and carvings which make Holycross Abbey a very special place. To witness these first hand you are welcome to join one of the free tours every Wednesday at 2 pm, every Saturday at 11 am and every Sunday at 2.30 pm. Times will change to suit any religious ceremonies taking place in the Abbey. The tours are conducted by trained volunteers

supported by Holycross Community Network. Of course, we can arrange tours outside these times. To check and for more information phone 086 1665869 or email Free tours are from now until Easter only.