Saint Thorlak

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Thorlak Thorhallsson
Saint Thorlakur.JPG
Statue of Saint Thorlac at the Catholic Cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland
Bishop of Skalholt
Born1133 (1133)
Fljótshlíð, Icelandic Commonwealth
Died23 December 1193(1193-12-23) (aged 59–60)
Skálholt, Iceland
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Canonized14 January 1984 by Pope John Paul II
Feast23 December; 20 July (translation of relics)
PatronageIceland, fishermen, Catholics of Scandinavia

Thorlak Thorhallsson[note 1] (1133 – 23 December 1193) is the patron saint of Iceland. He was bishop of Skálholt from 1178 until his death.[1] Thorlak's relics were translated to the cathedral of Skalholt in 1198, not long after his successor as bishop, Páll Jónsson, announced at the Althing that vows could be made to Thorlak. His status as a saint did not receive official recognition from the Catholic Church until 14 January 1984, when John Paul II canonized him and declared him the patron saint of Iceland.[2] His feast day is 23 December, when Thorlac's mass is celebrated in Iceland.


Born in 1133 at Hlíðarendi in the see of Skálholt in southern Iceland,[1] Thorlak was from an agrarian family.[3] He was ordained a deacon before he was fifteen and a priest at the age of eighteen. He studied abroad at Paris with the Victorines, where he learned the Rule of Saint Augustine from roughly 1153 to 1159, and then studied Canon Law at the Augustinian priory in Lincoln.[1]

Returning to Iceland in 1165, Thorlak founded a monastery of Canons Regular at Þykkvabær 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.

Thorlak 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.


Thorlak'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.[4] It seems likely that Thorlak'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'.[5]

Thorlak was officially recognised as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on 14 January 1984, when John Paul II canonized him and declared him the patron saint of Iceland.[2]

The sacred reliquary of Thorlak was maintained in the Diocese of Skalholt until it was destroyed in the Reformation, and his mortal remains were strewn about the cathedral grounds. The only known remaining relic of Thorlak is a bone fragment contained with other saints' relics in a lead box in sanctuary's end wall ("The Golden Locker") of the St. Magnus Cathedral, Faroe Islands.[6]


A novena, or nine day devotional prayer, in honor of Thorlac was approved in May 2018, by the Bishop of Reykjavik, Iceland for use by all faithful.

Thorlac's mass[edit]

Thorlac's mass is celebrated on the date of his death, 23 December. It is considered the last day of preparations before Christmas.[3] 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 23 December was the last day of the Catholic Christmas fast. In west fjords in 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.


A group based in the state of New York has advocated for Thorlak becoming the patron saint of people with autism.[7]

Autism Consecrated, a blog written by the autistic self advocate Aimee O'Connell, promotes Saint Thorlak as a role model for autistic Catholics.[8]


  1. ^ Also spelled Thorlac; Old Norse: Þorlákr Þórhallsson; Icelandic: Þorlákur Þórhallsson [ˈθɔrˌlaukʏr ˈθourˌhalsˌsɔːn]; Latin: Thorlacus, Thorlacius.


  1. ^ a b c Fahn & Gottskálk 2010, p. 19.
  2. ^ a b Fahn & Gottskálk 2010, p. 20.
  3. ^ a b "St. Thorlak of Iceland". Catholic News Agency.
  4. ^ Ásdís Egilsdóttir (ed.), Þorláks saga helga. Elsta gerð Þorláks sögu helga ásamt Jarteinabókog efni úr yngri gerðum sögunnar (Reykjavík: Þorlákssjóður, 1989).
  5. ^ Fahn & Gottskálk 2010, pp. 20-21.
  6. ^ "St. Ansgars Bulletin No. 89" (PDF).
  7. ^ Rodríguez, Ketsia (3 April 2019). "St. Pius Tenth Parish creates a sensory-friendly worship space". Catholic Courier. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Autism Consecrated | Living the Mission of Saint Thorlak". Autism Consecrated. Retrieved 14 May 2021.


External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Klængur Þorsteinsson
Bishop of Skálholt
Succeeded by
Páll Jónsson