Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

Christ Church Cathedral is one of Dublin’s finest architectural gems, with much of its remains dating from the 12th century. The cathedral was founded around1 1028 when King Sitric Silkenbeard, the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome, the first bishop was Dúnán or Donat. The cathedral was built on high ground overlooking the original Dublin Viking settlement at Wood Quay, the lands of Baldoyle, Raheny and Portrane were given by Sitric to the cathedral for its maintenance. The cathedral was originally staffed by a secular clergy but the second bishop of Dublin introduced the Benedictines. In 1163 the church was converted to a priory under the control of the Augustinians and became the wealthiest religious house in Ireland. Henry II paid a trip to the cathedral in 1171 attending the Christmas Service, this was the first time he received communion following the murder of Thomas Becket who was killed by Henry’s knights in Canterbury when he was still serving as Archbishop. In the 1180s Strongbow and other powerful Normans helped to fund the complete rebuilding of Christ Church, replacing the original wooden building.

At this time the choir, choir aisles, transepts, crypt and the chapels to St. Edmund, St Mary and St Lo were built. A chapel to one of the earliest archbishops St Laurence O’Toole was added in the 13th century. In 1300 the Pacis Compositio was signed with St Patrick’s cathedral, both Christ Church and St Patricks had vied for the status of cathedral of the diocese but this arrangement allowed for both to hold the same status within the church. This agreement lasted until 1870 when the church commissioners proposed making St Patricks the sole cathedral and reducing Christ Church to a parish church. In the 1350s a major extension of the priory was undertaken by John de St Paul, Archbishop of Dublin. In 1539 King Henry VIII converted the priory to a cathedral and his successor King Edward VI provided further funds for the cathedral. St Patrick’s cathedral was formally suppressed on the 25th of April 1547 and its silver, jewels and ornaments were transferred to Christ Church. Increased endowments for the Cathedral came under the reign of Queen Mary I of England and King James I. In 1551 the divine service was sung in English for the first time rather than Latin followed by the first bible reading in English in 1560.

In 1562 the foundations of the nave slipped bringing down the south wall and the roof, the north wall which still visibly leans and dates back to 1230 survived. Partial repairs were carried out but it does seem that both Christ Church and St Patricks fell into a poor state off repair at this time. In the 17th century both parliament and the law courts met in buildings erected alongside Christ Church, however once the parliament and the law courts moved to College Green and the Four Courts respectively the cathedral fell further into disrepair. The building was declared unsafe and no longer fit for use in the early 19th century. It wasn’t until 1871 that extensive renovations were made to the cathedral. The 14th century choir was demolished and a new eastern end was built over the original crypt. A new chapter house was built and the south nave arcade was also rebuilt. The flying buttresses were added as a decorative feature at this time.

There are many interesting historical features and tombs in the cathedral, one of the most notable being the reputed tomb of Strongbow which was used as the venue for legal arrangements from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The cathedral also contains the largest cathedral crypt in Britain or Ireland measuring 63.4 metres in length and constructed in 1172-1173. The crypt is home to the oldest known secular carvings in Ireland, two statues that until the late 18th century stood outside the Tholsel (Dublin’s medieval city hall), a set of stocks, made in 1670, which used to stand in Christ Church Place and were used for the punishment o offenders. One of the most unusual remains in the crypt are that of a mummified cat and rat!

Christ Church is a must see for anyone visiting Dublin and I highly recommend getting in there when it opens at 9am as the crowds later in the day can make appreciating its splendour increasingly difficult!

GPS: 53.34343, -6.2714

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