15 September 2012

Finding liturgical space in a cathedral and an inner city church

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford
This afternoon, the part-time MTh students from Years II, III and IV are visiting two inner city churches – Christ Church Cathedral and CORE, which is housed in the former Saint Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street.

This visit is an introduction to liturgy, and the idea is to see how two traditional churches in the city centre have been adapted over the years to provide for modern needs in liturgy. One is a Gothic work of architecture and the other is a classical building, the principal architectural styles for churches in the past.

Christ Church Cathedral (founded c.1028) is the spiritual heart of the diocese and of the city, and one of the top visitor attractions in Dublin. Here it is possible this afternoon to see how the cathedral is used flexibility as it is being adapted for tomorrow afternoon’s service of ordination.

The cathedral was founded probably sometime after 1028 when King Sitric Silken-Beard of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. The first bishop of the new Diocese of Dublin was Dúnán or Donat, and the diocese was at that time a small piece of urban land surrounded by the much larger Glendalough, and was initially dependent on Canterbury.

The church was built on the high ground overlooking the Viking settlement at Wood Quay and was the principal church of the city.

The cathedral was originally staffed by secular clergy. The second Bishop of Dublin introduced the Benedictines. In 1163, Christ Church became an Augustinian priory under Archbishop Laurence O’Toole, and was headed by the Augustinian Prior of the Priory of the Holy Trinity rather than a dean until 1541.

Henry II attended the Christmas service in the cathedral in 1171, and this was the first time the king received Holy Communion following the murder of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury.

Christ Church was initially a wooden building, but was completely rebuilt in stone in the 1180s, with a choir, choir aisles, transepts, crypt and chapels.

Much of the present nave was built in the 1230s. Its design was inspired by the architecture of the English western school of Gothic, and its wrought stones came from Somerset.

A major extension was undertaken in the 1350s. By 1358, the nave was partly in use for secular purposes and a “long quire” was added, extending the old choir area by about 10 metres. The choir school was founded in 1493.

At the Reformation in 1539, the prior and canons became the dean and chapter of Christ Church. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was suppressed in 1547, and its treasures were transferred to the dean and chapter of Christ Church.

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 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 Christ Church. The building was in poor condition for much of the 19th century and after it was declared unsafe and unfit for use, some limited works were carried out by Matthew Price between 1829 and 1831.

The cathedral was extensively renovated and rebuilt from 1871 to 1878 by George Edmund Street, through the generosity of the distiller Henry Roe, who spent over £230,000 on the project (over €26 million in today’s terms).

The 14th century choir was demolished and a new east end was built over the original crypt. Street 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 and the baptistry was built in its place.

Street built the adjoining Synod Hall, incorporating the last surviving portions of Saint Michael and All Angels’ Church, including the bell tower. The synod house is linked to the cathedral by Street’s iconic covered footbridge. Further renovations were carried out, notably between 1980 and 1982.

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.

Tourists and visitors ask for Strongbow’s tomb, and are fascinated by the cathedral’s medieval crypt, which is one of the largest in these islands, and the earliest surviving structure in the city. The crypts sights include many memorials, the mummified cat and the rat, who are mentioned by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake, the stocks, the Treasury, and an audio visual presentation, and the cathedral shop and café are also in the crypt.

Christ Church Cathedral was a major pilgrimage site in the mediaeval period, with an important collection of relics ranging from a miraculous speaking cross to a piece from the crib of the Christ Child. Until it was stolen earlier this year, it was still possible to see one of these relics – the heart of Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin.

The choir of Christ Church Cathedral, which traces its story back to to 1493 with the founding of the choir school, and the cathedral choir sings Evensong four times a week during term time.

Saint Catherine’s Church (CORE)

Saint Catherine's Church, Thomas Street ... home to Core since (Photogrsph: DubhEire)

CORE stands for City Outreach through Renewal and Evangelism. The church is based in the former Saint Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street in the city centre Dublin, close to the Guinness Storehouse and a 15-minute walk from Grafton Street.

The main Sunday service at 11 a.m. is described as “contemporary and engaging worship” with relevant and biblical teaching, and a Spirit-filled community.” But there has been a church in this place, in one form or another, since 1177.

In that year, the parish of Saint James is mentioned as part of the Abbey of Saint Thomas, from which Thomas Street gets its name, and Saint Catherine’s Church was a chapel of ease to the abbey. By the end of the 13th century, the population of Dublin’s western suburbs had grown so that a separate parish was needed. The new parish was formed by splitting the parish of Saint James and creating the parish for Saint Catherine’s.

Both parishes continued to be linked to the Abbey of Saint Thomas, but the abbey was dissolved in 1539 along with other monastic houses.

The present church was originally built between 1760 and 1769 to the designs of John Smyth, who was also responsible for the interior of Saint Werburgh’s Church. The interior of Saint Catherine’s is typical of the period; with an oak-panelled gallery carried by encased cast-iron columns and boxed pews on the ground floor. The shallow vaulted ceiling has fine plasterwork but more elaborate decoration was provided around the chancel.

The architectural historian Maurice Craig says Saint Catherine's has "the finest façade of any church in Dublin.” The façade is built of mountain granite and in the centre has four Doric semi-columns supporting a pediment, and at the extremities coupled pilasters. Originally a spire was intended, but this was not completed, because of a lack of funds.

Several Earls of Meath were buried in the crypt. Robert Emmet was executed in front of the church in 1803, and the site of his execution is marked by a plaque outside the church.

The architects Curdy and Mitchell restored the church in 1877 and during the interior reordering in the following decade, the old box pews were replaced with open ones. The adjoining churchyard was closed for burials in 1894 and the church itself closed in September 1966 because of a fall in the local population – an experience shared by many inner city parishes.

The church was deconsecrated in 1967 and was transferred to the Dublin Corporation on the condition for use for cultural and community purposes. Exhibitions and concerts with well-known artists such as Christy Moore and the Chieftains were held here at first, but in time, interest in using the building declined and the fabric began to deteriorate.

In 1990, the Dublin Corporation offered the church for sale as part of an inner city development plan. The building was in poor order, its interior ravaged by vandals and its exterior showing signs of water damage and staining.

It took another seven years before work began on returning Saint Catherine’s to its former glory. At the time, CORE was meeting in Saint Werburgh’s Church, between Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle.

CORE began as a response to a perceived need for an Anglican church plant in the heart of Dublin city centre that would focus on outreach, renewal and evangelism. The words found in Isaiah 61 were also at the heart of the vision of CORE – a call to “preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, release from darkness for the prisoners [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

In 1993, CORE made a commitment to take on the refurbishment of Saint Catherine’s, a massive undertaking for a congregation that then numbered about 80 people. The restoration work cost about £1.75 million and CORE completed the work without carrying any debt.

The interior was largely restored in 1998. A new baptismal font for total immersion was built at the centre of the nave, the chancel area was converted into a stage and seating was provided in the form of stackable chairs. A foyer was created beneath the gallery at the back of the church by installing a glass partition. The single-storey vestry became a three-floor office building, the exterior was cleaned and the clock returned to working order.

Saint Catherine’s was re-consecrated in November 1998, and since then IT has been the place of worship for CORE, which has continued to flourish and to develop, particularly in the area of its local outreach into the area immediately surrounding Saint Catherine’s.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a visit to Christ Church Cathedral and CORE (saint Catherine’s Church), Dublin, as an introduction to the modules on Liturgy and Church History on 15 September 2012.

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