Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral

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Name Christchurch County Dublin About

Christ Church Cathedral is located in the former heart of mediaeval Dublin, next to Wood Quay, at the end of Dame Street. However a major dual carriage-way building scheme around it separated it from the original mediaeval street pattern which once surrounded it, with it original architectural context (at the centre of a maze of small buildings and streets) lost both by road-building and by the demolition of the older residential quarter at Wood Quay. As a result the cathedral now appears dominant in isolation behind new civil offices along the quays, out of its original mediaeval context.

Christchurch is the only one of the three cathedrals or acting cathedrals which can be seen clearly from the River Liffey.

The cathedral was begun in 1038 by King Sitric Silkenbeard, the Danish Viking King of Dublin, for the first Bishop of Dublin, Donat or Donagh (the Diocese of Dublin was at that time a small island surrounded by a huge Diocese of Glendalough, and answered to Canterbury). The church was built on the high ground overlooking the Viking settlement of Wood Quay and Sitric gave the "lands of Baldoyle, Raheny and Portrane for its maintenance”.

Originally staffed by secular clergy, the second Bishop of Dublin introduced the Benedictines, and then in 1163, Christ Church was converted to a Priory of the Regular Order of Arrosian Canons (Reformed Augustinian Rule) by the second Archbishop of Dublin, later Saint, Laurence O’Toole, who adhered to the rule himself; it was subsequently headed by an Augustinian Prior, who ranked as the second ecclesiastical figure of the diocese, and not a Dean, until re-establishment in 1541.


The current building

Henry 11 attended the Christmas service at the cathedral in 1171, and in the years thereafter, Strongbow and other Anglo-Norman magnates helped to fund a complete rebuilding of Christ Church, comprising the construction of a choir, choir aisles and transepts, the crypt, and chapels to St Edmund and St. Mary.

A chapel to St Laurence O’Toole was added in the 1200s and much of the extant nave was built in the 1230s.

In 1300 Archbishop Ferings of Dublin arranged an agreement between the two cathedrals, the Pacis Compostio, which acknowledged both as cathedrals and made some provision to accommodate their shared status (see below for more on this).

By 1358, the nave of the cathedral was partly in use for secular purposes, and a "long quire" was added, extending the old choir area by around 10 metres.


King Edward VI, in 1547, provided funds for an increase in cathedral staffing, and annual royal funding for the Choir School.

Also under King Edward VI, St. Patrick's Cathedral was formally suppressed and, on 25 April 1547, its silver ,  jewels and ornaments were transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church. This episode ended with a late document of Queen Mary's reign, a deed dated 27 April 1558, comprising a release or receipt by Thomas Leverous, Dean, and the Chapter of St. Patrick's, of the "goods, chattels, musical instruments, etc.," belonging to that Cathedral, and which had been in the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church.

Queen Mary, and later James I, also increased Christ Church's endowment. Meanwhile, in 1551, divine service was sung for the first time in Ireland in English instead of Latin, and in 1560, the bible was first read in English.

The foundations of the nave, resting in peat, slipped in 1562, bringing down the south wall and the arched stone roof (the north wall, which visibly leans, survived, and largely dates back to 1230). Partial repairs were carried out but much of the debris was simply levelled and new flooring built over it until 1871.

In the seventeenth century, both parliament and the law courts met in buildings erected alongside Christ Church. King James 11 himself presided over a state opening of parliament in that location. However, parliament and the law courts both moved then elsewhere

Some limited works were carried out between 1829 and 1831 but the building, as with nearby St. Patrick's, was in poor condition for much of the 19th century.

The cathedral was extensively renovated in Victorian times, with the sponsorship of distiller Henry Roe, of Mount Anville, who also built the adjacent Synod Hall, taking in the last remnant of St. Michael's Church, and hosting General Synods, and Diocesan Synods for Dublin, Glendalough and Kildare. Mr Roe spent over 230,000 pounds at the time (over €26 million in 2006 terms).

Further renovations were carried out, notably between 1980 and 1982.

Christ Church is the centre of worship for the United Dioceses, and holds notable annual events such as the Citizenship Service. As the cathedral of the southern province of the Church, it also hosts ordination of priests and consecration of bishops.

Following the extensive renovation in Victorian times, while the seriously decayed structure was preserved from collapse, it remains difficult, to tell which parts of the interior are genuinely mediæval and which parts are Victorian pastiche. Photographs taken from the exterior show the dramatic nature of the rebuilding done by the Victorians. Nonetheless, Christ Church remains a fascinating sampling of surviving medieval and later church building.

The Crypt

The Cathedral famously contains the purported tomb of Stongbow, a medieval Norman-Welsh peer and warlord who came to Ireland at the request of King Diarmuid McMurrough and whose arrival marked the beginning of English involvement in Ireland. The tomb in the nave is believed today not to actually be Strongbow's: the original tomb having been destroyed centuries ago, an unconnected mediæval tomb was moved soon afterwards from a church in Drogheda to Christ Church, placed on the site of Strongbow's tomb and identified as Strongbow's. In the Middle Ages, oaths were sworn on the tomb of Strongbow, an occurrence clearly stated in the Christ Church Deeds. Alongside the main tomb is a smaller one, perhaps of a female figure, perhaps of a child.

On one wall alongside the Choir is the famous mummified group of "Cat and Mouse," found trapped behind the organ and preserved by the very dry air of the cathedral.

Christ Church also contains the largest cathedral crypt (63.4m long) in Britain or Ireland, constructed in 1172-1173. 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, two carved statues that until the late eighteenth century stood outside the Tholsel (Dublin's mediæval city hall, which was demolished in 1806)
  • 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 Catholic King James 11, having fled England in 1690, came to Ireland to fight for his throne and attended High Mass in the temporarily re- Catholicised Christ Church
  • the stocks, formerly in Christ Church Place, made in 1670 and used for the punishment of offenders before the Court of the Dean's Liberty (the small area under the Cathedral's exclusive civic authority), moved here in 1870
  • historic books and altar goods of the Cathedral


Synod House and Bridge

At the west end of the cathedral is a fully-integrated stone bridge, leading to the former Synod House, itself built onto the remains of another church (St. Michael's). The Synod House is now home to the Dublinia exhibition about old Dublin city.

Two cathedral issue

For most of their common history, both Christ Church and St. Patrick's held the status of cathedral for the Dublin Diocese, a rare arrangement which only ended following the move to disestablish the Church of Ireland. In early times, there was considerable conflict over status but under the six-point agreement of 1300, Pacis Compositio, still extant, and in force until 1870:

  • The consecration and enthronement of the Archbishop of Dublin was to take place at Christ Church - records show that this provision was not always followed, with many Archbishops enthroned in both, and at least two in St. Patrick's only
  • Christ Church had formal precedence, as the mother and senior cathedral of the diocese
  • Christ Church was to retain the cross, mitre and ring of each deceased Archbishop of Dublin
  • Deceased Archbishops of Dublin were to be buried alternately in each of the two cathedrals, unless they personally willed otherwise
  • The annual consecration of chrism oil for the diocese was to take place at Christ Church
  • The two cathedrals were to act as one, and shared equally in their freedoms


As Christ Church receives no regular State support, while it welcomes all guests, and has a chapel for those who simply wish to pray, there are fees for sightseeing, which can also be paid in combination with the purchase of a ticket for the neighbouring Dublinia exhibition. There is a gift shop with souvenirs, recordings of cathedral music groups and publications.

Text taken from Wikipedia