Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, commonly known as Christ Church, Dublin

53°20′35″N 06°16′17″W / 53.34306°N 6.27139°W / 53.34306; -6.27139Coordinates: 53°20′35″N 06°16′17″W / 53.34306°N 6.27139°W / 53.34306; -6.27139
Country Ireland
Denomination Church of Ireland
Founded c.1030
Dedication Holy Trinity
Style Gothic
Diocese Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough
Province Province of Dublin
Dean The Very Revd D P M Dunne
Precentor The Revd P R Campion
Organist/Director of music Judith Gannon
Organist(s) David Bremner

Christ Church Cathedral (or more formally, The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) is the cathedral of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough and the cathedral of the Ecclesiastical province of the United Provinces of Dublin and Cashel in the Church of Ireland. [1] It is situated in Dublin, Ireland and is the elder of the capital city's two mediæval cathedrals, the other being St. Patrick's Cathedral.


Overview and history


Christ Church Cathedral - Dublin

Christ Church is officially claimed as the seat (cathedra) of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin. In practice, it has been the cathedral of only the Church of Ireland's Archbishop of Dublin, since the English Reformation. Though nominally claimed as his cathedral, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin uses St Mary's in Malborough Street in Dublin, as his pro-cathedral (acting cathedral).[2]

Christ Church Cathedral is located in the former heart of medieval Dublin, next to Wood Quay, at the end of Lord Edward Street. However a major dual carriage-way building scheme around it separated it from the original medieval street pattern which once surrounded it, with its original architectural context (at the centre of a maze of small buildings and streets) lost due to road-building and 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 medieval context.

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

The first Christ Church

The cathedral was founded probably sometime after 1028 when King Sitric Silkenbeard, the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. The first bishop of this new Dublin diocese was Dúnán or Donat, and the diocese was at that time a small island of land surrounded by the much larger Diocese of Glendalough, and was for a time answerable to Canterbury rather than to the Irish Church hierarchy. The church was built on the high ground overlooking the Viking settlement at Wood Quay and Sitric gave the "lands of Baldoyle, Raheny and Portrane for its maintenance."[3] Of the four old Celtic Christian churches reputed to have existed around Dublin, only one, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, lay within the walls of the Viking city, and so Christ Church was one of just two churches for the whole city.[3]

The cathedral was originally staffed by secular clergy. The second Bishop of Dublin introduced the Benedictines. 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. This priory, the Priory of the Holy Trinity, became the wealthiest religious house in Ireland, holding over 10,000 acres (40 km2) of property in County Dublin alone, [4] most notable of which were the three home farms held at Grangegorman, Glasnevin and Clonken or Clonkene, now known as Deansgrange.[5]

The Norman period

Henry II attended the Christmas service at the cathedral in 1171. According to the Cathedral guidebook this was the first time Henry took Holy Communion since the murder of Thomas Beckett by Henry's knights in Canterbury.

In the 1180s, Strongbow and other Norman magnates helped to fund a complete rebuilding of Christ Church, initially a wooden building, in stone, comprising the construction of a choir, choir aisles and transepts, the crypt, and chapels to St. Edmund and St. Mary and St. Lô.

A chapel to St. Laurence O'Toole was added in the 13th century and much of the extant nave was built in the 1230s. Its design was inspired by the Architecture of the English western school of Gothic, and its wrought stones- of a Somersetshire oolite- were sculpted and laid by craftsmen from the same area.[6]

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.

The cathedral was the location of the purported coronation, in 1487, of Lambert Simnel, a boy pretender who sought unsuccessfully to depose Henry VII of England, as 'King Edward VI'.

In 1493, the Choir School was founded.

The Reformation

As discussed below, in 1539 King Henry VIII converted the Priory to a Cathedral with a Dean and Chapter, and worked to ensure Christ Church adhered to his new church structure. His immediate successor, Edward VI of England, in 1547, provided funds for an increase in cathedral staffing and annual royal funding for the Choir School.

King Edward VI formally suppressed St. Patrick's Cathedral 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 I of England, and later James I of England, also increased Christ Church's endowment. Meanwhile, in 1551, divine service was sung for the first time in Ireland in English instead of Latin. In 1560, the Bible was first read in English.

The Kingdom of Ireland

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 17th century, both parliament and the law courts met in buildings erected alongside Christ Church. King James II himself presided over a state opening of parliament in that location. However, parliament and the law courts both moved elsewhere: the law courts to the newly built Four Courts and parliament to Chichester House in Hoggen Green (now College Green).

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.

19th and 20th centuries

The cathedral was extensively renovated and rebuilt from 1871 to 1878 by George Edmund Street, with the sponsorship of distiller Henry Roe of Mount Anville. The great 14th century choir was demolished and a new eastern end was built over the original crypt. He built a new chapter house. The tower was rebuilt. The south nave arcade was rebuilt. The flying buttresses were added as a decorative feature. The north porch was removed. The baptistery was built in its place.[7] Street built the adjacent Synod Hall, taking in the last remnant of St. Michael and All Angels's Church, including the bell tower. The synod house is linked to the cathedral by Street's iconic covered footbridge. Mr Roe spent over £230,000 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.


Impact of the restoration

Worm's-eye view from a point a few meters before the altar, showing the altar and the ceiling above
Christ Church Cathedral (interior)

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 medieval 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 cathedral famously contains the purported tomb of Strongbow, a medieval Norman-Welsh peer and warlord who came to Ireland at the request of King Diarmuid MacMorrough and whose arrival marked the beginning of English involvement in Ireland. The tomb in the nave is believed today[by whom?] not to be Strongbow's, the original tomb having been destroyed centuries ago,[citation needed] an unrelated medieval tomb was moved soon afterwards from a church in Drogheda to Christ Church, and placed as a substitute to the destroyed tomb of Strongbow. As is well documented from a number of sources[citation needed], the tomb of Strongbow was used as the venue for legal agreements from the sixteenth to the 18th centuries. Alongside the main tomb is a smaller figure with sloping shoulders, suggesting a female figure, but wearing chain mail, which may indicate that it was 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.

The crypt

A glass display case containing the mummified remains of a cat and a rat facing each other.
The cat and the rat in 2006 before their return to the crypt

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 18th century stood outside the Tholsel (Dublin's medieval 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 II, 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
  • "The Cat & The Rat" are displayed with an explanatory note.

Chapter House

Behind the altar area, there is the Chapter House, which contains cathedral offices, meeting rooms and other facilities.

Synod Hall and Bridge

At the west end of the cathedral is a fully integrated stone bridge, leading to the former Synod Hall, which was built on the site of St Michael's, a prebendal church of Christ Church's which was demolished by Street during his restoration of the cathedral. This Synod Hall, which incorporates the old St Michael's tower, was formerly used for hosting General Synods, and Diocesan Synods for Dublin, Glendalough and Kildare. It is now home to the Dublinia exhibition about medieval Dublin.


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

Roman Catholicism

To this day, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, St. Mary's, is known as a Pro-Cathedral, in acknowledgement of the fact that the Holy See recognizes Christ Church as the rightful seat of the Catholic Archbishop.


Dean and Chapter

The Dean and Chapter, with the consent of the Archbishop of Dublin, preside over the cathedral, with the Dean as first among equals in Chapter but holding a day-to-day authority, subject to the special roles of some other figures (the Dean and Chapter together are in a similar position to a Rector of a Parish).

The Chapter comprises the Dean, Precentor (who must be skilled in music), Chancellor, Treasurer, Archdeacons of Dublin and Glendalough, and twelve Canons, eight being clergy of the Diocese of Dublin, and four clergy of the Diocese of Glendalough (the three most senior in order of appointment are known as the Prebendary of St. Michael's, Prebendary of St. Michan's, and the Prebendary of St. John's).

See Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin for more on the Deans and the preceding Priors. The Dean is appointed by the Archbishop of Dublin, and in an arrangement commenced in 1971 is also Incumbent of the Christ Church Cathedral Group of Parishes, whose day-to-day care is in the hands of a Vicar appointed by a special Board of Patronage.

The Dean can appoint a Deputy, and also appoints the Cathedral Verger, and the Dean and Chapter together appoint the Precentor, while the other members of the Chapter are appointed by the Archbishop.

Cathedral Board

Having been historically governed by its clerical chapter alone, since 1872 the Cathedral has been operationally overseen by a Board comprising nine clerical members (the Dean, Precentor, two Clerical Vicars and five other clerics)[8] and nine lay members, elected every third annual Easter Vestry. The Cathedral Board has the power to appoint and remove officers of the cathedral other than those whose appointment is vested in the Archbishop, or the Dean and Chapter, or Dean, to regulate salaries, and to manage financial matters. The Board is in a similar position to a Select Vestry of a Parish.

The Board has committees - mid-2007, these are: Administration & Finance, Culture (including the Treasury), Deanery, Fabric, Fundraising, Health & Safety, Information Technology, Music, Safeguarding Trust and Tower.

Other clergy

There is a Dean's Vicar (and Clerk of the Chapter), a Vicar of the Cathedral Group of Parishes, and posts for a Curate Assistant and a Student Reader. There are also usually Honorary Clerical Vicars.


Christ Church has a long musical history, with a well-known Cathedral Choir and a Girls Choir. Along with the Precentor, the musical side of its work is led by the Organist and Director of Music, working with any Assistant Organist and Organ Scholar, as well as the Honorary Keeper of the Music and Music Librarian, and at 2007, a Music Development Officer.

List of organists

  • 1595 John Fermor
  • 1608 Thomas Bateson
  • 1631 Randal Jewett
  • 1639 Benjamin Rogers
  • 1646 John Hawkshaw
  • 1688 Thomas Godfrey
  • 1689 Thomas Morgan
  • 1692 Peter Isaac
  • 1694 Thomas Finell
  • 1698 Daniel Rosingrave
  • 1727 Ralph Rosingrave
  • 1747 George Walsh
  • 1765 Richard Woodward
  • 1777 Samuel Murphy
  • 1780 Langrishe Doyle
  • 1805 William Warren
  • 1816 Francis Robinson
  • 1834 John Robinson
  • 1844 Sir Robert Prescott Stewart
  • 1894 John Horan
  • 1906 James Fitzgerald
  • 1913 Charles Herbert Kitson
  • 1920 Thomas Henry Weaving
  • 1950 Leslie Henry Bret Reed
  • 1955 Arnold Thomas McKiernan
  • 1980 Peter Sweeney
  • 1992 Mark Duley
  • 2003 Judy Martin
  • 2010 Judith Gannon (Locum)


Christ Church Cathedral probably had at least one ringing bell from its foundation. By 1440 there were known to be three great bells in the tower, however on 11 March 1597 an accidental gunpowder explosion in one of the nearby quays damaged the tower and caused the bells to crack. The effects of this blast also damaged the tower nearby of St. Audoen's Church.

In 1670, six new bells were cast for the tower from cannon metal. These were augmented to eight in 1738 and then to twelve in 1878.

The most recent augmentation was in 1999 when an additional seven bells were added to the ring, giving a grand total of 19 bells, a world record for bells rung this way. Although this does not produce a diatonic scale of 19 notes, it does uniquely provide a choice of combinations: three different 12-bell peals (in the keys of B, C# and F#) as well as 14 and 16 bell peals. At the time of the augmentation, this was only the second 16 full circle bell peal in the world - St Martin's Church in Birmingham being the first.

The bell-ringing work is led by the Ringing Master and Master of the Tower.

Administrative staff

The cathedral staff is led by a Managing Director, as of April 2010. It includes a Director of Operations, with responsibility for the day to day running of the cathedral, the co-ordination of services and events, as well as the supervision of the office staff and vergers (the Head Verger leads three other vergers). There is also a Director of Music, and a Shop Manager.

Archives and publications

Christ Church has a range of historical archives and has arranged for a number of publications over the years, as well as maintaining a website since the 1990s. This work is overseen by the Honorary Keeper of the Archives and the Web and e-mail Editor, along with the Honorary Secretary of Christ Church Publications, Ltd.


The Cathedral is supported by the voluntary Friends of Christ Church Cathedral, founded in 1929, and working with the Cathedral authorities in a variety of ways.


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.

Christ Church Cathedral group of parishes

In 1971, the General Synod, following prior discussions, created the Christ Church Cathedral Group of Parishes, uniting what were then four parishes with the cathedral, whose Dean is their Rector: St. Andrew's, St. Werburgh's, All Saints (Grangegorman) and St. Michan's, St. Paul and St. Mary. The parishes are overseen day-to-day by a Vicar appointed by a special Board of Patronage.


  • Lorcán Ua Tuathail - his heart
  • John Comyn (archbishop)
  • Thomas Cartwright (bishop)
  • John Maxwell (archbishop)
  • Stephen de Fulbourn
  • John Parker (archbishop)
  • Thomas Lindsay (archbishop)
  • Henry Leslie (bishop)
  • St George Ashe
  • Welbore Ellis (bishop)
  • John Garvey (archbishop)

Footnotes and references

  1. ^ Christ Church at the official site of the Church of Ireland
  2. ^ Periodically, it has been suggested that the Catholic Church intends to "downgrade" Christ Church to parish church level (i.e. to effectively acknowledge that the Church no longer regards it as its cathedra) and to either upgrade St Mary's to full cathedral status or to build a new cathedral. Until the 1970s, the park in the centre of Merrion Square was the planned site for the new cathedral but that location was instead given on a long lease to Dublin City Council. It is now known as Archbishop Ryan Park after Archbishop Dermot Ryan, who made the gift to the people of Dublin.
  3. ^ a b Dublin: Catholic Truth Society, 1911: Bishop of Canea: Short Histories of Dublin Parishes, Part VIII, p. 162
  4. ^ Raymond Gillespie: A History of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Four Courts Press, 1996.
  5. ^ Mac Giolla Phadraig, Brian, '14th century life in a Dublin Monastery' in Dublin Historical Record 1(3) (September, 1938), pp 69, 72.
  6. ^ Harold G. Leask, 'Irish churches and monastic buildings.'
  7. ^ Shell Guide to Ireland
  8. ^ "In the year 1921, and in every third year thereafter, the Dean and Chapter shall elect from among the clergymen of the Cathedral five persons, who, with the Dean, the Precentor, and the two senior Clerical Vicars, shall be members of the Cathedral Board".

Further reading

See also

Archbishop of Dublin

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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