St Thorlac

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Bishop. Born in Iceland in 1133, St Thorlac went to Paris and Lincoln to study. When he returned home he is said to have ignored advice to marry a rich widow - at a time when many other Icelandic priests were married - and instead started a house of canons regular at Thykkviboer. He was consecrated bishop of Skalholt in 1178 and set about reforming the Church in Iceland, drawing up a code for both laity in clergy. He died on this day in 1193, and was canonised by bishops in the national assembly in 1198.

His life and dozens of his miracles are described in great detail in Icelandic saga Þorláks Saga Helga (Saga of Saint Thorlak), republished in Icelandic on the occasion of John Paul II's visit to Iceland - when Thorlac was made patron saint of Iceland.

Thorlac's Mass is celebrated today. It is considered the last day of preparations before Christmas. 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.