Thursday, 11 July 2019

Finding the reliquary
of another child martyr
and saint from Rome

The shrine or reliquary of Saint Urban in Mount Saint Alphonsus, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I sometimes wonder about the many saints’ bodies and parts of their bodies are kept in churches throughout Ireland.

They include the head of Saint Oliver Plunkett in Saint Peter’s Church, Drogheda, the heart of Saint Valentine at the Carmelite church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, the heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and the bodies of three child martyrs from Rome: Saint Victoria in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Saint Adjutor in the Franciscan Friary, Wexford, and Saint Urban in Mount Saint Alphonsus, the Redemptorist church in Limerick.

I remember children in Wexford being teased: ‘What did the boy in the Friary die of?’

‘He died of eating an egg on a Friday.’

But people from throughout Ireland and beyond visit the Friary to see Saint Adjutor, the boy martyr, killed by his own father. The shrine was once listed in the Lonely Planet, and the life-like waxen figure shows the wounds inflicted by the young boy’s father.

It is said Saint Adjutor was martyred in the third century by his own father, who dealt a hatchet blow to his head when he heard that young Adjutor had attended the confirmation of a Christian friend.

The figure was brought to Wexford in 1856 by Richard Devereux, who was presented with the relic by Pope Pius IX during a trip to Rome. Richard Joseph Devereux (1829-1883) was a Liberal MP for Wexford (1865-1872) while his brother, John Thomas Devereux, was MP for Wexford (1847-1857) before him.

The Devereux brothers were the merchant princes of Wexford in the Victorian era. Richard Devereux owned one of the largest fleets of sailing ships in Ireland and brought the first cargo of Indian corn to Wexford during the Famine.

When Richard Devereux died in 1883, the reliquary was moved from his house to the friary, and the waxen figure of Saint Adjutor is now enshrined in a glassed, enclosed reliquary at the back of the Friary Church.

On a wall beside the shrine, a typed explanatory note reads:

The Reliquary of St Adjutor

The waxen figure which is enclosed in the casket contains a relic of St Adjutor.

The 3rd century was a very difficult one for the church. Many Christians were martyred by order of the Emperor. Very little is known about the life of Adjutor, but it is said that he was one of these martyrs.

During the pontificate of Pope Pius IX the relic of St Adjutor was taken from the cemetery of Preatextatus in Rome about the year 1850. The relic was placed in the wax figure and this wax figure was then clothed in cloth of gold texture.

The relic was given as a token of appreciation to Richard Devereux of Wexford while he was on a pilgrimage to Rome in the 19th century. After some years in his keeping, the reliquary was transferred to the friary in 1883.

Very little is known about the 3rd century martyrs. Some legends have been passed down about some of them, including St Adjutor. They persevered in the faith in very difficult times.


Whether Saint Adjutor or Saint Victoria ever existed is a topic for another debate. But around the same time as their relics were being moved to Wexford and Kilkenny, the reliquary of another boy martyr, Saint Urban, were given to Mount Saint Alphonsus, the Redemptorist church in Limerick.

Towards the front of the nave of the church, the Chapel to Our Lady of Dolours contains a Pieta. There too, a shrine to Saint Urban, a Boy Martyr from Rome, is mounted on a wall in the chapel, and dates from December 1867.

The relics of Saint Urban are said to have been brought to the church in Limerick from the Catacombs in Rome.

A small, hand-written label in red and white writes: ‘Body of St Urban, a young boy of Rome, martyred for the Faith about 300 AD.’

Perhaps Saint Urban was a contemporary of Saint Adjutor in Wexford, perhaps he was a contemporary of Saint Victoria in Kilkenny.

It is interesting to realise that the bodies of these three young Roman martyrs arrived in post-Famine, urban Ireland around the same time. But does anyone know who they were? Does anyone know who Saint Urban was?

The Chapel to Our Lady of Dolours in Mount Saint Alphonsus in Limerick with the reliquary of Saint Urban (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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