Christ Church Cathedral: when I am in Dublin, I often stay within the sound of its bells.
There has been a place of worship near the western edge of the present day Temple Bar arts district for going on for ten centuries now.
There are some things about the place which may surprise you.
Sitric, Norse king of Dublin, returned from a pilgrimage to found a church. A wooden church was built around 1030. On the sidewalks around the present day cathedral, you will see images that honour and remind of Viking times.
By the 12th century, a stone church was in place.
The buildings you see at Christ Church now are a mix of eras and styles. There parts of that 12th century Romanesque structure in the interior and in the crypt below the main church. The impressive Gothic style exterior is largely from an extensive restoration which took place under the direction architect George Edmund Street in the 1870s.
Christ Church is an active, working parish, a Church of Ireland one since the Reformation. For three months in 1689 when England’s Catholic King James II sought refuge at the church, Catholic services were restored. James gave items to the church, as did King William III who defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne. You can see gifts from both men in the crypt.
The crypt is home to a museum of cathedral treasures — among them a mummified cat and rat who fell into the organ pipes in the 1800s, as well as the cathedral’s 14th century copy of the Magna Carta and the gifts form James and William. There’s a small cafe and a shop as well.
A good part of the cathedral archive and library is also housed in the crypt. Its collection is one of the longest continuous gatherings of records in Ireland. This resource is regularly consulted by scholars in disciplines including architecture, geography, and ecclesiastical and political history, as well as artists, craftspeople, and musicians.
Music has long been part of the life of the cathedral parish both through worship and in community outreach. When gatherings are permitted, it is a venue for musical events including concerts as part of TradFest and weekday afternoon concerts by visiting musicians.
The choir school dates back to 1493 and is world renown, as is the choir itself. In 1742, the choir of Christ Church took part in the first performance of Handel’s Messiah, in a hall just a few steps away down Fishamble Street.
There is a labyrinth on the cathedral’s grounds. What’s a labyrinth? It is a physical path to walk as an aid to meditation and prayer.
There are gardens and benches on the grounds, too. On one of the benches there’s a figure wrapped in a blanket. You may at first think this is a homeless person, which in a sense it is. Then you see it is a statue and that there are wounds in its bare feet.
This is the statue Jesus the Homeless, by Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz. Mr. Schmaltz decided that his piece, which was funded by an anonymous donor, should be placed at Christ Church.
There have been bells at Christ Church since at least 1423. The people who ring them, members of the Christ Church Cathedral Society of Change Ringers, are part of group which was formed in 1670.
There are nineteen bells at Christ Church, which makes for a range of musical choice, as they vary in size and sound. The oldest bell still in use is from 1738.
When circumstances permit, attending a service is a way to experience Christ Church which offers perspectives beyond taking a tour. Tours, in person services, and other group activities are paused at present, though you may view services online. There is also an extensive online presence through which you may learn about the current activities of the parish and more of its history.
If you are in Dublin, you may want to know that Christ Church is open for private prayer and reflection for two hours in the afternoon most days. Appropriate health and safety practices must be observed.
Keep an ear out, too, for the bells…
Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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