Saint Thorlak

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Saint Thorlak Thorhallsson
Saint Thorlakur.JPG
Statue of Saint Thorlac at the Catholic Cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland
Bishop of Skalholt
Born 1133
Fljótshlíð, Icelandic Commonwealth
Died December 23, 1193
Skálholt, Iceland
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 14 January 1984 by Pope John Paul II
Feast December 23; July 20 (translation of relics)
Patronage Iceland, fishermen, Catholics of Scandinavia, potentially patron of people with Autism Spectrum disabilities (cause is currently, unofficially, being investigated)

Saint Thorlak Thorhallsson (Old Norse: Þorlákr Þórhallsson; Icelandic: Þorlákur Þórhallsson; Latin: Thorlacus; 1133 – December 23, 1193), also spelled Thorlac, is the patron saint of Iceland. He was bishop of Skalholt from 1178 until his death.[1] Thorlac’s relics were translated to the cathedral of Skálholt in 1198, not long after his successor as bishop, Páll Jónsson, announced at the Althing that vows could be made to Thorlac. His status as a saint did not receive official recognition from the Catholic Church until January 14, 1984, when John Paul II canonized him and declared him the patron saint of Iceland.[2] His feast day is December 23. He is currently being considered as a potential patron saint of people with autism and autism spectrum disabilities by a grassroots movement called the Mission of Saint Thorlak.


Born in 1133 at Hlíðarendi in the see of Skálholt in southern Iceland,[1] Thorlac was from an aristocratic family. He was ordained a deacon before he was fifteen and a priest at the age of eighteen. He studied abroad at Paris (c. 1153-59) and possibly Lincoln.[1]

Returning to Iceland in 1161, Thorlac founded a monastery of Canons Regular at Þykkvibær after refusing to marry a rich widow. There he devoted himself to a strictly religious life, refusing to marry (many other Icelandic priests were married) and devoting himself to reciting the Our Father, the Creed, and a hymn, as well as fifty Psalms.

Thorlac was consecrated a bishop by Augustine of Nidaros and worked to regulate the Augustinian Rule in Iceland, as well as eradicate simony, lay patronage, and clerical incontinency.


Thorlac's life and dozens of his miracles are described in great detail in the Icelandic saga Þorláks saga helga (the Saga of Saint Thorlak), republished in Icelandic on the occasion of John Paul II's visit to Iceland in 1989.[3] It seems likely that Thorlac's informal sanctification in the Church in Iceland, promoted by Latin texts on which this was based, 'was arranged in Icelandic ecclesiastical circles, clerics of both dioceses being conspicuous in reports of early miracles'.[4]

Thorlac was officially recognised as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on January 14, 1984, when John Paul II canonized him and declared him the patron saint of Iceland.[2] He has not yet been named patron of any other specific causes, but a growing number of people feel he is a particularly helpful patron of people with autism and autism spectrum disabilities.

Þorláksmessa (St. Thorlac's Day)[edit]

Þorláksmessa (Thorlac's mass) is celebrated on the date of his death, December 23. It is considered the last day of preparations before Christmas.[5] Therefore, on St. Thorlac's Day, the house is cleaned and preparations for the Christmas meal are begun. Fish was usually eaten on Þorláksmessa since December 23 was the last day of the Catholic Christmas fast. In western Iceland, it was customary to eat cured skate on this day; this custom spread to the whole of Iceland. The skate is usually served with boiled or mashed potatoes, accompanied by a shot of Brennivín.


  1. ^ a b c Susanne Miriam Fahn and Gottskálk Jensson, 'The Forgotten Poem: A Latin Panegyric for Saint Þorlákr in AM 382 4to', Gripla, 21 (2010), 19-60, at p. 19.
  2. ^ a b Fahn and Jensson, p. 20.
  3. ^ Ásdís Egilsdóttir (ed.), Þorláks saga helga. Elsta gerð Þorláks sögu helga ásamt Jarteinabókog efni úr yngri gerðum sögunnar (Reykjavík: Þorlákssjóður, 1989).
  4. ^ Fahn and Jensson, pp. 20-21.
  5. ^ "St. Thorlak of Iceland", Catholic News Agency

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Klængur Þorsteinsson
Bishop of Skálholt
Succeeded by
Páll Jónsson