The Patron Saint of Iceland

Saint Thorlak
1133 - 1193

Although Iceland’s national assembly declared him a saint in 1198, only five years after his death, this “unofficial” canonization did not become an official part of the Church’s liturgical calendar until Pope John Paul II confirmed him as the country’s patron in January 1984.

Thorlak was born in 1133, less than two centuries after German and Norwegian missionaries began the first effective evangelization of Iceland. The pagan nation’s conversion had involved a dramatic national struggle, as many Icelanders clung fiercely to their ancestral religion despite its customs of idol worship and infanticide.

The Catholic Church in Iceland had solidly established its presence by the time of Thorlak’s birth. However, it had fallen into some disarray, particularly due to local clergy disregarding the rule of clerical celibacy, selling church positions for personal gain, and engaging in other breaches of discipline.

Thorlak’s parents, barely able to earn a living as farmers, took note of their son’s talents and made sure he received extensive religious instruction from a local priest. His gifts must have attracted wider notice, since Thorlak received ordination as a deacon before the age of 15 and became a priest at age 18.

Afterward, he left Iceland for a period of time to study theology in France and England. During this time he committed himself to living by the monastic rule of St. Augustine, an important part of the Western Church’s tradition. This rule committed a priest not only to celibacy, but also to a life in community without personal possessions, after the manner of the apostles in the Church’s earliest days.

Inspired by this vision of radical discipleship, he held fast to the discipline of clerical celibacy, even after returning to Iceland and being pressured to marry a wealthy widow. Instead, he ended up founding a monastery according to the Augustinian rule, which became renowned as a place of prayer and study.

Ten years after the founding of the monastery, the Norwegian Archbishop Augustine Erlendsson, another follower of the ancient Augustinian rule of life, called on Thorlak to become bishop of the Icelandic diocese of Skalholt. Although he was deeply attached to his monastic way of life, Thorlak recognized the pressing need for reform and guidance among the clergy.

As a bishop, he was deeply dedicated to implementing the reforms of the Western Church that Pope Gregory VII had begun during the past century, which envisioned not only a strict discipline of clerical celibacy, but also the independence of the Church against intrusion by secular authorities.

Thorlak also sought to improve public morality, and dared to confront even the most popular and powerful chieftain in Iceland, who was said to have had an extramarital affair with the bishop’s own sister. Understandably, he often longed to put aside these kinds of burdens and return to the monastic life.

Before he could do so, he died on December 23, 1193.

St. Thorlak was undoubtedly Iceland’s most popular native saint during the country’s Catholic period. Over 50 churches were dedicated to his memory before Iceland became officially Lutheran during the 16th century.

Although the Catholic Church no longer has a large presence in Iceland, celebration of St. Thorlak’s feast has persisted as a widespread national custom. Icelanders celebrate on Dec. 23 as the final day of preparation before Christmas, and have maintained the custom of gathering to eat cured fish.

The popularity of St. Thorlak, patron saint of Iceland, is growing. People ask his intercession and receive answers to prayer. More and more people come to his statue at our Cathedral in Landakot in Reykjavik and light a candle. The Novena (nine-day prayers) is prayed in Catholic churches prior to the feasts of St. Thorlak. These prayers have also spread abroad. The Novena has been translated into French and more translations are being made.

THE HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN ICELAND

Prayer in honor of St. Thorlak

Patron Saint of Iceland

Solemn Feast: July 20

Feast: December 23

St. Thorlak pray for us!

All-powerful, ever-living God, you made Saint Thorlak bishop and leader of your people. May his prayers help us to bring forgiveness and love. May we be inspired by the example of St. Thorlak and proclaim what he believed and put his teaching into action. We ask this in the name of Jesus our Lord.

The Novena to Saint Thorlak of Iceland

APPROVED by His Excellency Msgr. David B. Tencer, OFM.Cap., Bishop: Diocese of Reykjavik

Nihil Obstat + Imprimatur: 06 May 2018.

 

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the holy life and example of Saint Thorlac of Iceland.

Inspired at the youngest age to seek wisdom, he found it in You;

in the psalms and writings of Holy Scripture;

in the virtuous instruction of the priests who fostered him;

and in the majestic natural wonders of his homeland.

Receiving Holy Orders at eighteen,

Thorlac devoted his entire life

to feeding the spiritual and material hunger of his people.

His quiet compassion for the poor and suffering

led him to long hours of prayer on their behalf.

He afforded peasants and penitents

the same dignity he showed chieftains and kings.

May Saint Thorlac help us live and to love,

according to your will.

Amen.

Saint Thorlac,

quietly humble and pure of heart.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

mentor in wisdom.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

gentle pastor.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

merciful confessor.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

champion of families and holy matrimony.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

defender of authentic Catholic living in all states of life.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

fatherly intercessor.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

true ambassador for Christ.

Pray for us!

Saint Thorlac,

devoted patron of Iceland.

Pray for us!

Heavenly Father,

we pray that all people in Iceland may be united in Christ

under the patronage of Your holy servant, Saint Thorlac.

May all taste Your unending love and mercy,

and rejoice in Your presence.

Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Say 1 Our Father…

Say 1 Hail Mary…

Say 1 Glory Be…

Day 1:

St. Thorlac, Quietly Humble and Pure of Heart

God our Father,

when holiness and humility seem far from our reach,

may we see through the example of St. Thorlac

that we can achieve these virtues

simply by loving You as we are,

where we are,

and in what we are given.

May we watch quietly, as St. Thorlac did,

to observe and experience Your presence in this very moment,

and in the people before us.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 2:

St. Thorlac, Mentor in Wisdom

Heavenly Father,

source of all wisdom and knowledge,

You taught us through Your Son Jesus

that we are to be lights to the world,

that others may see our deeds and give glory to You.

You generously gave wisdom to Your servant, St. Thorlac,

who delighted in bringing Your light to all in his path.

Grant us the grace to share in Your wisdom

with others through mentorship and example.

Through Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

Day 3:

St. Thorlac, Gentle Pastor

Almighty God,

St. Thorlac took great care to lead others to You

in ways that were loving and gentle.

He wished for everyone to live harmoniously

according to Your plan,

that where two or more gather in faith,

You become present.

May the pastors of Your Church

follow St. Thorlac’s example in their perseverance,

forbearance and striving for concord.

Help us to hear Your voice through our pastors,

not grieving those set over us

by chasing discord with Your Church and its teaching.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 4:

St. Thorlac, Merciful Confessor

God of all mercy,

may our efforts to forgive and forget

be lifted up as penance to help remit the sins of others

and bring them closer to You.

Help us through the intercession of St. Thorlac

to desire mercy for our neighbors and associates,

particularly those who offend us.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 5:

St. Thorlac, Champion of Families and Holy Matrimony

Heavenly Father,

You endowed St. Thorlac with a loving comprehension

of the marital bond

and the fortitude to defend this Sacrament

for the sake of preserving families.

May we have the same courage as St. Thorlac

to help men and women honor one another

and raise children within the blessing of marriage.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 6:

St. Thorlac, Defender of Authentic Catholic Living in All States in Life

Almighty God,

we sometimes find ourselves setting different standards

based on different states in life.

Help us to see, as St. Thorlac did,

that we all share the same fundamental vocation:

to love the Lord Our God with all our hearts,

all our souls, all our minds and all our strength;

and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 7:

St. Thorlac, Fatherly Intercessor

Father in Heaven,

we praise You for the life and ministry of Your servant, St. Thorlac,

whose fervent love of You

brought people from all walks of life

to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their faith.

Whether wealthy or poor,

healthy or infirm,

young or old,

those who encountered St. Thorlac

felt personally touched and uplifted

by his desire to share Your treasury with them.

May St. Thorlac see our present needs (especially ______________)

and respond with compassion, assistance and instruction.

May he help us grow closer to God

and find relief from our troubles.

May his wise counsel lead us to the healing

and restoration we need most.

In spiritual partnership with St. Thorlac,

we pray for all who seek his intercession,

particularly for the people of Iceland.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 8:

St. Thorlac, True Ambassador for Christ

Heavenly Father,

help us to remember that, as Christians,

we are called to be ambassadors of Your Kingdom among our own friends,

families and municipalities.

Help us to emulate the example of St. Thorlac

in always remembering our allegiance as Your representatives.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Day 9:

St. Thorlac, Devoted Patron of Iceland.

Almighty God, send forth Your Spirit to all who dwell in Iceland.

Lead them with Your light.

Instruct them with Your wisdom.

Remind them always of Your love.

Provide them with abundance in all of their needs

in spirit, mind and body.

May Iceland know the Merciful Love of Jesus Christ

and the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

now and for evermore.

Through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Saint Thorlac,

Pray for Iceland!

Saint Thorlac,

Pray for Us!

The St. Thorlak medal

The medal features a picture of a saint with the following inscription: Sancte Thorlace, patronus Islandiæ, ora pro nobis (St. Thorlak, patron saint of Iceland, pray for us). On the other side is a lily symbol that was an ancient symbol of the Skálholt Diocese and is a reference to the Holy Mother of God. The lily symbol is also on the coat of arms of our diocese. The inscription is n. 1133, Episcopus Skalholtensis 1178-1193 (born 1133, Bishop of Skálholt 1178-1193).

In October 2019, Bishop David offered Pope Francis a copy of the St. Thorlak’s medal. Francis and his entourage expressed their admiration for this initiative.

The medal is made of pure silver and is now available in Reykjavik. Those who are interested can contact the chancery, tel. +354 552 5388, email: catholica@catholica.is