If you are ever travelling or have the good fortune to live abroad, I would recommend wandering about wherever you live- there is no limit to what you might discover. There are spaces like Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin that have seen the span of centuries and hold the stories of countless people, and being able to spend time there is absolutely priceless.
Living in Dublin for a year and being a historian of medieval Ireland, I was spoiled for surviving medieval spaces and haunts throughout the city (and country). Although my own period of study is really 500-800 AD, Dublin has several churches, buildings, bridges, and graveyards that survive from 100-1400 AD that I was more than happy to wander through and take everything in! Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin may not be as large or decadent as some other cathedrals in Europe, but there is something amazingly calm but gorgeous that makes you want to spend your day in contemplation there. (There is also a hint of The Tudors, and who doesn’t love a staggeringly elaborate costume drama??
The Cathedral Itself
Christ Church Cathedral is at the end of what is now called College Green (known back in the day as Lord Edward Street), beside Wood Quay. Originally built in the mid eleventh century as a wood structure, it was rebuilt in the late twelfth century by Strongbow and the other Norman lords who helped Henry II conquer Ireland. This later cathedral is what survives today, and is connected to the adjacent Synod Hall by a covered footbridge added in the early twentieth century! It is surrounded by a very busy intersection, but I find it incredibly peaceful as soon as you step foot on the grounds.
The History of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin
I love that you can see the exact layout and position of the chapter house that would have been used by the clergy that worked and worshipped in the cathedral. As a historian, I can often lose myself in the vaguest hint of history, but others often need more- this is a very real reminder of the past, and allows anyone to recreate the paths and setting of the monks and clergy that spent their hours, days, and lives here. This house is where they would have had their offices and meeting rooms, and done much of their work proper as we would consider it.
Once you are actually inside the cathedral, you can wander throughout it yourself or pay for the audioguide. Although I’ve paid to go through the cathedral six times at last count, I’ve yet to do the audio tour- the cathedral has featured in so many of the sources and studies that I’ve read that I’m not sure that a brief taped guide could add to my knowledge base. Still, from my experience with audioguides in other cathedrals and museums, I would thoroughly recommend grabbing one as they are almost always worth the few Euro. On your walk, you will discover some very interesting things like the tomb of Strongbow.
So, for the people out there who aren’t dedicated Irish history nerds, Strongbow was also known as Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Leinster, Justiciar of Ireland. Through marriage and warfare, he took the Kingdom of Leinster from Diarmait Mac Murchada (the Irish King of Leinster) and was Henry II’s righthand man keeping control of Ireland. The effigy that currently resides in the cathedral dates back to the sixteenth century, with the original tomb damaged in a 1562 fire. Effigies might be the final form of wish fulfillment, presenting whatever image of yourself that you (or others) want to last, but he still looks like he was an intimidating warrior.
The Stained Glass
One of the more beautiful and peaceful aspects of Christ Church is the stained glass windows. Like any other cathedral, church, or chapel, the stained glass in the cathedral represents the stories of various saints and Biblical episodes. The panes were installed throughout the whole of the twentieth century, and are largely dedicated to the soldiers that fought in World War II. From all of the cathedrals that I’ve visited in North America and Europe, it seems that the later addition of stained glass in the late nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty first century seems very common- I’m not sure why, but I would certainly be interested if anyone knows the story behind the trend.
One of my favourite exhibitions that I’ve ever had the fortune to see in person happened to be in the crypt of Christ Church- an exhibition on the costumes from The Tudors. Like anyone else remotely interested in history, I watched all of the The Tudors wraptly and even though it was not the most accurate of shows, I loved all of it. Largely filmed in Dublin and Ireland, it is particularly fitting that I would find this here. It is one thing to see it on your tv or computer when you are watching, but seeing how elaborate and rich these costumes are was breathtaking to say the least. One of my luckier finds, if I do say so, myself!
If you ever find yourself in Dublin, before Trintiy College or the National Museum or O’Connell Street, I would go to Christ Church straight away! At the heart and the start of medieval Dublin, it is quietly fascinating and the perfect introduction to Dublin.