07 March 2015

Church History (2014-2015, part-time) 4.1:
Field Trip 1, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... a living example of architectural church history (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute:

Church History elective module (TH 7864)

Years I to IV, MTh part-time,

Saturday 7 February 2015:

Field Trip 1 (Part 1), Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin


Christ Church Cathedral Dublin image was created with Inkscape by Blackfish, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Last night [6 March 2015], we had an introduction to architecture in Church History. This morning [7 March 2015], we are visiting Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and then the National Gallery of Ireland which houses one of the great collections of Irish and European art.

Christ Church Cathedral is the Church of Ireland Cathedral for the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough. Its origins date to about 1038 when the Viking settlers built a cathedral on this site.

Christ Church Cathedral stands on a hillside above and the old Viking city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Looking at it from some distance, the cathedral seems to wander all over the hillside on which it is built. The cathedral stands in what was once the heart of mediaeval Dublin, next to Wood Quay at the end of High Street to the west and relatively modern Lord Edward Street to the east.

A modern, major road building scheme around it separated it from the original mediaeval street pattern that 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 mediaeval context.

The cathedral was founded probably sometime ca1028-1030 after King Sitric Silkenbeard of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. The first bishop of this new Diocese of Dublin was Dúnán or Donat, who was bishop from ca 1028 to 1074. He was probably consecrated in England, for at the time, the Diocese of Dublin was an isolated parcel of land surrounded by the much larger Diocese of Glendalough and for a time a time was dependent on the Archbishops of Canterbury rather than being an integral part of Irish Church structures.

The cathedral was built on high ground overlooking the Viking settlement at Wood Quay and King Sitric endowed it with the “lands of Baldoyle, Raheny and Portrane for its maintenance.”

The cathedral was originally staffed by secular clergy rather than clergy living by a monastic rule. The second Bishop of Dublin, Patrick or Gilla Patraic (1074-1084) was consecrated in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, by Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury. He introduced the Benedictines to the cathedral.

In 1163, Christ Church was made a priory of the Regular Order of Arrosian Canons (Reformed Augustinian Rule) by the second Archbishop of Dublin, Laurence O’Toole. Later, the Augustinian prior ranked as the second ecclesiastical figure of the diocese until 1541, when the Prior became the Dean, and the Augustinian canons the cathedral canons. This Priory of the Holy Trinity became one of the wealthiest religious housea in Ireland, holding over 40 sq km of property in Co Dublin alone, including three home farms at Grangegorman, Glasnevin and Clonken or Clonkene, now known as Deansgrange.

After its initial completion the building was extended lengthwise rather than upwards. In the grounds, we can see the remains of a chapter house dating from the Middle Ages, when this was a monastic church. Henry II is said to have attended the cathedral at Christmas 1171, which is said to have been the first time he received Holy Communion following the murder of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury.

The present building dates from 1172 when Archbishop Laurence O’Toole and the Anglo-Norman leader, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, known as ‘Strongbow’ initiated the building work, replacing a wooden structure with a cathedral modelled on the lines of the great European Gothic cathedrals, with choir, choir aisles and transepts, the crypt and chapels named in honour of Saint Edmund, Saint Mary and Saint Lô.

A chapel to Saint 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 Somerset oolite were sculpted and laid by Somerset craftsmen.

In the 1350s, a major extension was undertaken by John de St Paul, Archbishop of Dublin (1349-1362). By 1358, the nave was partly in use for secular purposes and a “long quire” was added, extending the old choir area by around 10 metres.

In 1562, The foundations of the nave, resting in peat, slipped, 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 this collapse, Strongbow’s tomb was smashed. The current tomb is a contemporary replacement from Drogheda. 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. The tomb of Strongbow was used as the venue for legal agreements from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

The cathedral has undergone further restorations in 1829 and 1871. The cathedral as we see it today is mainly Victorian due to the extensive restorations and renovations carried out by the English Gothic revival architect, George Edmund Street in the 1870s. Until the 1700s, houses were built up against the cathedral on all sides and it was not until Street’s restoration that the grounds were cleared around the cathedral allowing it to be viewed unhindered.

Street’s restoration cost over £230,000. Just as the restoration of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral nearby was funded by the brewer Benjamin Guinness, the Victorian restoration of Christ Church Cathedral was funded by the Dublin whiskey distiller Henry Roe, who generously donated the entire cost of the work.

The interior of the cathedral is a mixture of architectural styles from the mediaeval Gothic to the Victorian Gothic revival (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The interior of the cathedral is mainly Victorian dating from the restoration by Street. The tower was rebuilt, the south nave arcade was rebuilt, and Street removed the original long choir. The flying buttresses were added as a decorative feature, the north porch was removed, and the Baptistry was built in its place. From this restoration, we see many fine Victorian features, including the floor tiles based on original designs found during the restoration and the many carved surfaces including the pulpit and the columns.

Street’s renovation saved the seriously decayed structure from collapse. However, it remains difficult to tell which parts of the interior are genuinely mediaeval and which parts are Victorian pastiche.

The cathedral is linked across Winetavern Street by an enclosed bridge to the former Synod Hall. Originally this was a separate church, Saint Michael’s, and it was connected to the main cathedral in the 1870s.

Outside, the most interesting feature is the fine Romanesque doorway on the gable of the southern transept. This original doorway dating from the 12th century is one of the external features not restored or replaced by Street, unlike the western doorway.

The Long Choir was demolished by Street and replaced with a smaller apse. The current office building to the north side of the cathedral was the Lady Chapel when the Long Choir existed.

The former chapter house can be seen alongside the transept. The present Chapter House contains cathedral offices, meeting rooms, choir school and other facilities.

Visiting the crypt

The crypt of Christ Church is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The crypt of Christ Church is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral. It dates from 1172-1173, or from 1188, and is one of the largest mediaeval crypts in these islands. It stretches under the entire cathedral and is 63.4 metres (175 feet) long and a maze of huge stone columns supporting the cathedral above.

The crypt was renovated in the early 2000s, and many pieces of stonework and fittings are stored here, including pieces of stonework removed and replaced during the Street’s restoration by George Street, monuments to important families and carved stones from the demolished Long Choir. After the demolition of the Tholsel or old city hall in 1806, the statues of Charles I and Charles II and the Stuart coats-of-arms were moved here. The stocks made in 1670 and once kept in Christ Church Place, were moved here in 1870. They had been used for the punishment of offenders before the Court of the Dean’s Liberty, a small area that was subject to the cathedral’s exclusive civic authority.

The crypt exhibits include a tabernacle and set of candlesticks used when the cathedral for a short time when James II, having fled England, came to Ireland in 1690 to fight for his throne, and attended High Mass in the cathedral. Other exhibits include Communion plate from different eras, and different editions of the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.

The exhibit most children want to see is the “The Cat and The Rat” are displayed with an explanatory note.

The Synod Hall and bridge

The bridge linking Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and the former Synod Hall, which was the venue for the General Synod for decades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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 Saint Michael’s, a prebendal church of Christ Church that was demolished by Street during his restoration of the cathedral.

This hall, which incorporates the old Saint Michael’s tower, was formerly used for general synods and diocesan synods. It is now home to the Dublinia exhibition about mediaeval Dublin.

(The Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a field trip to Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, on 7 March 2015 as part of the elective model TH 7864 with part-time MTh students.

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