The Christ Church Cathedral Dublin – A Complete Guide

The Christ Church Cathedral Dublin is the oldest building in continuous use in the entire city. The story of the Cathedral begins almost a thousand years ago when a Viking king erected the first church here. Over the next thousand years, the church was ruined, rebilled and restored many times. Today, Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In this article, let’s take a look at everything the church has to offer and why you should include a visit to the Christ Church Cathedral Dublin in your Ireland itinerary.

Chirst Church Cathedral Dublin, the main hall.

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A brief history of the Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

When the Viking king Sitriuc Silkenbeard came to power in the 9th century, Ireland already had a rich Christian tradition. Converted by St. Patrick in the 4th, early Christian Ireland was wealthy and powerful. However, around the year 800, with the Norse invasion, everything changed. After 2 centuries of battles, the locals finally lost out to the nordic conquerors. And with new rulers came new rules. Therefore, the king deemed it necessary to build a new church.

Travel Tip:

The Christchurch Cathedral is just one of many attractions you can access free with the Dublin Pass.

Construction here began in the year 1030, with a small, Nordic Style church. However, the new conquerors wouldn’t stay in charge for long. By the 12th century, the weakened Vikings were overthrown by a new, Anglo-Norman invasion. And once again, with the new rulers came new rules. And consequently, a new church. Mostly destroyed by the latest invaders, little of the Viking church remains today. Slowly rebuild by the Anglo-Normans, most of the Cathedral you see today dates from the 12th and the 13th century.

Also Read: Things To Do in Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, a side hallway.

Dublin Packing List

From a Church to a Cathedral via a convenient divorce

In 1539, King Henry the VIII decided to marry Anne Boleyn – no matter the cost. However, the pope had other ideas. Because the pope wouldn’t grant Henry an annulment of his already existing marriage, the king took a radical step. He would sever all ties with the papacy and instead establish a brand new religion. In this religion, called Anglicanism, the king would be the head of the new church. Conveniently, this also meant he would be able to grant a divorce to… himself. And so a new religion was born.

New religion means new rules and the king has to start the conversion somewhere. At the time, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was the cathedral of Dublin. Rather than dealing with the conservative clergy at St. Patricks, the king took a shortcut and converted Christ Church to Christ Church Cathedral. The newly christened cathedral was the first place in all of Ireland to carry out an Anglican service.

More than 500 years later, the ghost of Henry the VIII would be back at Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. But we will talk about that in a little while.

The outside view of Christ church Cathedral Dublin.

Where to Stay in Dublin

The Wynn Hotel

The Shelbourne Dublin

Aloft Dublin City

The restoration of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

As you walk through the cathedral, you’ll notice many unusual details. Many of these date from the 19th century. In 1562 the roof above the cathedral collapsed, taking with it the richly decorated windows and floor tiles. However, in the 19th century, these were restored using medieval designs and techniques.

A chappel in the Christ Church Cathedral Dublin.

The Church’s connection with animals

One unusual feature of the cathedral is the decorative animals you’ll find here. Among them, a 13th century carved monkey sits on top of a pillar. The church’s strong connection with the animal kingdom means that the bishop conducts an annual “blessing of the animals” within the sacred walls. For this rite, locals and tourists bring their favorite pets to church. The animals receive special earthly treats and a prayers service. When you visit, see how many animals you can find within the church’s architectural details and decorations.

St. Laurence O’Toole’s Heart in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

St. Laurence O’Toole is the patron saint of Dublin. He was buried in France in 1180 and this heart was sent to Christ Church shortly thereafter. The heart lay in the church for the next eight hundred years, secure in its place. It might sound like the end of the story – but it is actually just the beginning.

One night in 2012 a thief implemented a bold plan. He or she entered the church in broad daylight and hid until after closing time. Then, the police believe, they used cutters to remove the stone heart from the metal box where it was kept. The person eventually left the church with their booty – but not before they lit two candles on the trinity altar.

For the next 6 years, the heart dropped off the face of the earth. An international hunt consisting of the Gardai (Irish Police), the Catholic Church police, the Interpol and the MI6 turned up no results. But one day, the police in Dublin received a phone call. “You’ll find the heart in Phoenix Park,” the caller said. The police rushed over to Dublin’s Phoenix Park – and sure enough, they found the heart. Returned back to Christchurch, the heart now rests easy in a far more secure setup. To this day, nobody was charged with the heist. You can view the heart during your trip in its ancient home – Christ Church Cathedral Dublin.

St. Laurence O'Toole's Heart on display.

The Crypt of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

Although the church is beautiful, the most interesting part of Christ Church cathedral lays deep below the ground. Here, in the largest crypt in Ireland, you’ll find a wealth of history, treasures – and weird artifacts.

Today we think of a crypt as a place of sorrow and reflection, however, this was not always the case. When the crypt was constructed in the 11th century, it quickly became a center of Dublin trade. Businessmen would meet down here to negotiate sales, primarily those of alcohol and later, tobacco. In fact, contemporaries say that in the 15th and 16th centuries the crypt was so loud, one had to shout to be heard over the noise.

Thankfully, co-working spaces have improved since the middle ages. Today’s crypt is a quiet keeper of treasures both valuable and strange.

The crypt under Christ church Cathedral Dublin.

The Magna Carta

Of the many treasures hidden deep within the crypt, perhaps the most famous is the Irish Magna Carta.

In the crypt of the Christ Church Cathedral, you’ll find a book called the Liber Niger (the black book). In its pages, among contemporary legal documents, you’ll spot an early copy of the Magna Carta. With the arrival of Liber Niger in the 13th century, Ireland became the second country to receive the protections under the document. However, the protections only extended to English landowners and so the Irish people of the time did not benefit. It wouldn’t be until the 14th century that the text of the Magna Carta was adapted to also cover Ireland’s wealthy landowners. Today, you can view the original document in the crypt of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral.

A medieval painting of king Henry III.
Coronation of Henry III, the king who issued the Irish Magna Carta

The Royal Plate

In the 1600s the Christ Church Cathedral was also the royal chappel of England. And so, to celebrate victory on the battlefield, King William the III and Queen Mary presented “A Royal Plate” to the cathedral. The plate was a religious offering from kings to show religious devotion and gratitude for the victory. The plate consists of various objects – plus a plate. All of it, of course, pure gold crafted by the most expert hands in the land. You can view the priceless medieval treasure in the crypt.

The gold plated royal plates in Christchurch's collection.

King Henry VIII comes back to Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

Have you ever seen the showtime drama “The Tudors?” In case you haven’t, here is a brief summary. In this gorgeous period series, Henry the VIII struggles to hold on to power through all the wives, mistresses and intrigues the crown can throw at him. Unlike the fat and badly wounded Henry VIII of real life, the more fortunate TV show’s king manages to maintain a debonair appearance through all six wives. A fun and relatively historically accurate piece, this one is a must-see if you have an interest in the era.

If you recall, it was Henry the VIII who elevated the humble Christ Church to a powerful cathedral. All in order to marry the love of the year, Anne Boleyn. In an ironic twist of fate, in the show, he comes back to this very ground to once again marry the unfortunate Anne Boleyn – this time actually in the cathedral. She is unfortunate of course because she is shortly due to lose her head.

Within the crypt, you’ll find a variety of memorabilia from the “The Tudors,” including the stunning costumes. On display in the one place Henry the VIII just can’t seem to escape.

Costumes from tv show "The Tudors" on display at Christchurch Cathedral.
The costumes from “The Tudors,” are on display in the Christchurch Cathedral crypt.

The Cat and the Rat

And speaking of escape. By far, the oddest thing on display in the crypt is the cat and the rat – two nameless animals caught in a perpetual life or death struggle.

In the 1860s, the workers remodeling the Christ Church Cathedral organ came upon these two strange figures. It looks like the animals were killed and then mummified while in the middle of a chase. The detail is striking – if you look closely you can even see the whiskers on the cat’s face. It looks like nobody won in this one. They have been on display in Christ Church’s crypt ever since.

A mummified cat and rat inside the cathedral.

Where to Stay in Dublin

The Wynn Hotel

Ideal for a special occasion, the Wynn Hotel offers traditional luxury with a modern twist. The historic hotel dates back to 1897, back when it was a gathering place for Irish rebels. Today the centrally located hotel is a favorite of well-heeled travelers from all around the world.

The Shelbourne Dublin

Known as the center for Dublin’s high society the glamorous Shelbourne Dublin is another great choice. Constructed over 200 years ago, the Shelbourne has always been glamorous. The hotel has played hosts to numerous dignitaries such as President John F. Kennedy. Centrally located and well-appointed in the traditional style, you can’t go wrong with the Shelbourne.

Aloft Dublin City

If modern decore is more your speed, the newly constructed Aloft Dublin City is an excellent choice. Central location, impeccable service, and new facilities are only a few of the reasons to pick this hotel. Many travelers who stay here recommend this accommodation as sophisticated but surprisingly affordable.

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The lobby at the Shelbourne Hotel

Dublin Packing List

One More Thing…

Thank you so much for reading this article on Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. I hope you have found it useful. If you did, please leave a comment or a question. These help search engines determine which articles are valuable. Thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you on the road!

Viktoria aka Traveltipster

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10 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    LJ Salcedo
    September 14, 2019 at 11:16 am

    I love that in a little time you can go from city to somewhere that you can get in touch with nature, culture and a simpler way of life.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Sarah M
    September 11, 2019 at 5:32 am

    Thanks for providing a detailed Christchurch guide. I have never been to Dublin. I wish I could visit this beautiful place.

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    Reply
    Tiffany La Forge-Grau
    September 10, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    What an amazing sight to behold. I would absolutely love to visit this Cathedral!

  • Avatar
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    Melanie williams
    September 10, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    What a beautiful place to visit for sure. I love going to cathedrals and would like to see this one xx

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 10, 2019 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks so much Melanie! I hope you have a chance to visit soon!

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    Ruchi Verma
    September 10, 2019 at 1:05 am

    I really wish to visit once to this place – Ireland ..you have really made me curious to visit soon!!

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    Reply
    jennifer schreiner
    September 9, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    What a great guide. I have always wanted to visit Ireland. Just so beautiful. I have this page bookmarked for my future trip. Thank you

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 9, 2019 at 4:01 pm

      That’s so great to hear! Thanks so much, Jennifer, enjoy your travels!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Stacie
    September 9, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Christ Church is so gorgeous. We went there on our most recent trip to Ireland, and I was completely blown away by its beauty.

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 10, 2019 at 8:54 am

      I so agree! It really is stunning 🙂

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