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Thorlákr Thórhallsson

(1133—1193)


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(1133–93),

bishop in Iceland. Born of an aristocratic family, Thorlac became a priest in his early twenties and studied at Paris and Lincoln for about ten years. In 1161 he returned to Iceland and settled down to a life of devotion, study, and pastoral ministry. This was in contrast with the life-style of many other Icelandic priests who were married and owned their churches. He would begin the day by singing the Our Father, the creed, and a hymn, and would recite fifty psalms a day. In 1168 he was bequeathed a large farm, where he founded a community of Austin Canons; he was the abbot and his mother the housekeeper. In 1178 he was consecrated bishop of Skalholt, one of Iceland's two dioceses, by Augustine, archbishop of Nidaros.

Thorlac followed the latter's reforming policies, for which his overseas education had prepared him. He tried to abolish clerical marriage, simony, and lay patronage, the usual targets of the Gregorian Reform bishops. He made some progress in these aims but did not achieve total success; he was however an influential spiritual guide. In his monastery of Thykkviboer it seems likely that at least some of the surviving Icelandic manuscripts were written which include ecclesiastical subjects such as Saints' Lives. There Thorlac died at the age of sixty. A saga of his life was written by a cleric of Skalholt and two books of miracles were recorded. He was canonized in 1198 by the bishops in the althing (assembly) of Iceland. The popular cult, which flourished until the Reformation, seems never to have been formally approved by Rome. Feast: 23 December.

Scriptores rerum Danicarum (ed. Langebek) iv. 624–30 (includes breviary fragments); H. Bekker Nielsen and L. K. Shook, ‘The Lives of the Saints in Old Norse Prose’, Medieval Studies, xxv (1963), s.v. Porlakr of Skalholt; B.L.S., xii. 176–8; Bibl. SS., xii. 458–9.

Subjects: Christianity.


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