The old phrase about being ‘steeped in history’ certainly applies to Christ Church Cathedral like no other building in Dublin. When you realise that its foundation took place less than twenty years after the Battle of Clontarf, then that is almost a thousand years of history. Where to begin?
The original wooden building was rebuilt by Strongbow and other Norman knights after their arrival in 1169. Laurence O’Toole was the then Bishop of Dublin who later became the city’s patron saint. He died in 1180 in Eu, Normandy and his heart was returned to Christ Church where it remained as an item of veneration. However, it was stolen from its casket on 3rd March 2012, and sadly has not been seen since.
Over the centuries various refurbishments have been carried out with the iconic, curved footbridge added in the 1870s. A number of small chapels with wonderful stained windows looked great as they were bathed in strong sunlight. And the colourful, tiled floor across which so much history has occurred was a constant reminder of the church’s unique history.
The famous choir began in 1493 and its members took part in the first performance of Frederic Handel’s oratorio Messiah on 13th April 1742 in nearby Fishamble Street. On another musical note a cat and rat were discovered in one of the organ pipes when it was refurbished. The two animals had died and became mummified in the 1850s, and are preserved, under glass, in the Crypt. James Joyce incorrectly referred to them as ‘that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ’ in Finnegans Wake. Joyce, however, had bad eyesight and this proves it! Also in the Crypt, the city’s oldest surviving structure, are numerous, fabulous gold items, statues, stocks, the Crypt Café and costumes from the TV series The Tudors.
And, lastly, up the narrow stairs in the belfry, are the bells that we have all become familiar with as they ring in the New Year, and long may they continue to do so.