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John Lanigan

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Church historian, b. at Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1758; d. at Finglas, Dublin, 8 July, 1825. He was one of the Ui Langachain of Hy Coonagh, near the Crotta Cliach, and the eldest son of Thomas Lanigan, a schoolmaster, and his wife, Mary Anne Dorkan. He received his early training from his father and in a private Protestant Classical school at Cashel, similar Catholic schools being forbidden in Ireland at that time by law. In 1776 he went to the Irish College at Rome to study for the priesthood, and after a rapid and brilliant course was ordained. By the advice of Pietro Tamburini he left Rome and accepted the chair of ecclesiastical history and Hebrew in the University of Padua. In 1786 he refused to take part in the famous diocesan Synod of Pistoia, though offered the position of theologian to the synod. In 1793 he published his "Institutionum biblicarum pars prima" (Pavia), a learned work containing much valuable matter concerning the history of the books of the Old and New Testaments; the two other parts which he had planned were not written. On 28 June, 1794, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from his university. On the Napoleonic invasion two years later he returned to Ireland, arriving at Cork destitute. His application to Bishop Moylan of Cork for pecuniary assistance was unheeded, probably because the bishop suspected him of Jansenism owing to his association with Tamburini and the Pavian clergy. A similar result following his efforts to be accepted in his native archdiocese, he wandered on to Dublin, where he was taken in as an assistant priest by the vicar-general, Father Hamil, a fellow student of his Roman days. Soon afterwards he was appointed professor of Scripture and Hebrew in Maynooth College on the recommendation of the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin. Dr. Moylan, however, raised difficulties; he proposed that Lanigan should first sign a formula used to test the Catholicity of the numerous French clergy who were taking refuge in Ireland at that time. Lanigan, seeing no justification for this proposal, refused and resigned.

On 2 May, 1799, Lanigan accepted a position as assistant librarian and foreign correspondent of the Royal Dublin Society, and began to work on his "Ecclesiastical History of Ireland from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish to the beginning of the thirteenth century", which was not, however, published till 1822 (4 vols., 8vo, Dublin). This masterly work, still the leading authority on its subject, did much to expose the inaccuracies of Archdall, Ledwich, Giraldus Cambrensis, and other writers on Irish church history. In it Lanigan supports the theory of the pagan origin of the Irish round towers. In 1808 he assisted Edward O'Reilly, William Halliday, and Father Paul O'Brien in founding the Gaelic Society of Dublin, the first effort in recent times to save the Irish language. He wrote frequently to the Press in favour of religious equality for Catholics, and fought vigorously against the proposed Royal Veto in connection with Irish episcopal elections. In 1813 his health began to fail, and he returned to his home at Cashel; he recovered sufficiently to resume his duties in Dublin, but eventually had to enter a sanatorium at Finglas, where he died. His grave in the neighbouring country churchyard is marked by a cross, bearing an Irish and a Latin inscription, erected in 1861 by his literary admirers.

Besides his writings mentioned above we may cite: "De origine et progressu hermeneuticae sacre" (Pavia, 1789); "Saggio sulla maniera d'insegnare ai giovani ecclesiastici la scienza de' libri sacri" (Pavia), written in vigorous and eloquent language; "The Present State. . .of the Church of England and the Means of effecting a Reconciliation of the Churches", prefaced to the "Protestant Apology for the Roman Catholic Church" (Dublin, 1809), by "Christianus" [Wm. Talbot]. He prepared for publication the first edition of the Breviary printed in Ireland, and edited Alban Butler's "Meditations and Discourses" (which appeared in 1845). That the humiliation and suffering he underwent as a result of Dr. Moylan's suspicions of his orthodoxy were undeserved is apparent from Lanigan's writings as well as from the testimony of his intimate clerical friends.


FITZPATRICK, Irish Wits and Worthies (Dublin, 1873); COOPER, in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v.; Dublin Review (Dec., 1847), 489.

About this page

APA citation. MacErlean, A. (1914). John Lanigan. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: The Encyclopedia Press.

MLA citation. MacErlean, Andrew. "John Lanigan." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 16 (Index). New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1914. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. For the glory of God and in honor of Saint Philomena.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1914. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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