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HIST & MYTH: One City - Two Cathedrals: Part I Christ Church

Post 182. 

Guest Post by MikeH 

Christ Church Cathedral 
Dublin city has a rich heritage and culture, with plenty of historical attractions to discover and explore Ireland’s colourful past. As the capital of Ireland, Dublin’s history is central to its culture and customs with various historical attractions which allow visitors to learn about the city’s rich history. Dublinia is one example, a living history museum focusing on the Viking and medieval history of the city. A must-see in order to witness the magnificence of the architecture is Dublin’s two famous Cathedrals, Christ Church and Saint Patricks, both located only a short walking distance from each other. 

In August, I had the great opportunity to visit these magnificent temples during a short stay in Ireland. I was truly impressed by Christ Church, its splendid interior richly decorated, the medieval crypt, and its unusual memorials but especially by its rich cultural significance. 

Describing in one post the magnificence or all the history around Christ Church would be, once again, an extremely difficult task so for now I will focus mainly on the origins of the cathedral, with an emphasis on the crypt and its elements and a brief description of the Saint Laud Chapel which contained the heart of Dublin’s Patron Saint

Interior View of Central Nave  
Unveiling the Cathedral

Located in the old centre of medieval Dublin, Christ Church Cathedral was founded in 1030 by the Hiberno-Norse King Sitriuc Silkenbeard and Dúnán, first Bishop of Dublin. It is the elder of the capital city's two medieval cathedrals, the other being St Patrick's Cathedral. The original wooden Viking church has been a part of Dublin and Irish history ever since. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Norman invasion by King Richard de Clare, better known as Strongbow. His tomb is inside the church walls whose effigy can be seen just beyond the entrance. 

Some interesting facts about the temple are for example that the cathedral owns one of the finest collections of early modern silver in Ireland, including the Communion Plate presented to the cathedral by William III (William of Orange) after he defeated King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Also, parts of the television series The Tudors were filmed at the cathedral with dresses and outfits worn by actors Maria Doyle Kennedy and Jonathon Rhys Myers available to be viewed within the crypt. 

Silver Communion Plate in the Crypt 
Music has always played an important role at Christ Church. Another historical fact but perhaps lesser known to the general public is related to the cathedral choir, who took part in the first performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1742 at Christ Church

The Medieval Crypt

It is believed to be the largest crypt in Britain and Ireland, measuring over 63m in length, built in the 1170s. Having been renovated in the early 2000s, it is now open for visitors. The crypt contains various monuments and historical features, including the oldest known secular carvings in Ireland and two carved statues that until the late 18th century stood outside the Tholsel (Dublin's medieval city hall, which was demolished in 1806). Another of the cathedral’s more intriguing inhabitants is the mummified remains of a cat and rat. According to church lore, the cat chased the rat into a pipe of an organ and both became stuck. They are displayed behind glass and although there are many treasures to explore in the church’s underground crypt, this one is very popular. 

Cat & Rat on display in the Crypt 
Other relics present in the crypt are a tabernacle and set of candlesticks which were used when the cathedral last operated (for a very short time) under the "Roman Rite", when the Roman Catholic king, James II, having fled England in 1690, came to Ireland to fight for his throne and attended High Mass in the temporary restoration of Christ Church as a Roman Catholic cathedral. It contains as well various historic books and altar goods of the Cathedral displayed all around the crypt. Finally, an item to call attention to are the stockades, formerly in Christ Church Place, made in 1670 and used for the punishment of offenders before the Court of the Dean's Liberty moved there in 1870. 

Saint Laud Chapel

An unusual relic having survived the Reformation and the different periods in time is the heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole which was displayed in Saint Laud’s Chapel in the South Transept. It was kept in a heart-shaped wooden box which was held inside a container made of iron bars and hung by a chain from the 13th century to 2012, when it was stolen. On recovery of this “treasure” it has not since been displayed. St Laurence O’Toole, who is Dublin’s Patron Saint, was elected Archbishop of Dublin in 1162 at the age of 32 and died at Eu in Normandy in 1180 while he was making his way to Dublin. He was the first person of Celtic or Gaelic descent to become Archbishop of Dublin as unlike his predecessors who were of Viking or Norman origin.

And the tour does not end here! There are much more elements to be seen and to discovered inside the cathedral for example the West Bay, the Musician’s Corner, the Baptistery, the North Transept, the South Ambulatory, among others though, I will leave it up to you to explore Christ Church by yourselves. 

One aspect that I loved about being in Dublin is that nearly everywhere you visit, there is something unexpected, and of course, Christ Church was not the exception. Once again, my dear readers I hope you also enjoyed reading this post and that you have learned more about this magnificent temple lying in the heart of Dublin.

If you are also passionate about ancient history and/or architecture, definitely Dublin is the place for you. I strongly encourage you book your flight to Ireland, spend few days in Dublin and visit Christ Church and delve into its historical and architectural richness. 

Christ Church Cathedral showing the bridge connecting to Synod Hall (Dublina)
About the Author

MikeH, born in Mexico, now living in Barcelona, has an avid interest in ancient history, mythology and a longing to understand early civilisations. When he is not working, you will find him on the tennis paddle court or exploring the historic city of Barcelona while enjoying delicious Spanish tapas. 

Images: Supplied by Author 

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