Photo courtesy of Christchurch Cathedral Website
On Tuesday evening, November 21st, a candlelit reception awaits FEG guides in a medieval crypt dating back to 1188 (cue The Adams family theme music..) Dublin’s oldest surviving structure, and dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, it is situated under Christchurch Cathedral, the Church of Ireland Cathedral for the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, in the heart of Medieval Dublin. Before packing your thermals, however, note that today’s crypt boasts both underfloor heating and air conditioning, so dress for all weathers! The crypt’s most famous residents are “Tom & Jerry”, or a mummified cat and rat, (cue more Adams Family music..) . The mystified mummies were trapped in an organ pipe, little knowing they would be the overture to the FEG delegates first impressions of Dublin!
Photo courtesy of Christchurch Cathedral website
On a more cultural note, the crypt also houses an exhibition of the Liber Negra or Black Book of Christchurch. It is, in fact, a 14th century copy of the 1215 Magna Carta, sealed by “bad” King John. The Magna Carta is the cornerstone to rule of law and trial by jury. John was considered a bad boy, even by tyrants’ standards, and repudiated the charter as soon as he possibly could. Fortunately, his death the following year meant that the new regent, “The greatest knight in Christendom”, William Marshall, Lord of Leinster, was able to re-enact it in 1216, and this version was sent to Ireland in 1217 . Many versions of the charter exist, including one creatively altered by a clerk in Dublin Castle, to suit Ireland, and in particular, to serve the free, male English landowners against the native Irish population. Be that as it may, the Magna Carta was the first , effective check on unjust rule and tyranny , which was written down and sealed into law.
Just a stone’s throw away from Christchurch is Fishamble Street, where, for the first time ever, Handel’s Messiah, his most famous work , was performed at the Charitable Musical Society’s Hall on Good Friday, 13 April, 1742. People have been selling their wares on this street for over a thousand years, but it was in the then new music hall, halfway down the street, that 5 men and 26 boys, the combined choirs of Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s choirs sang, in order to raise funds for charities. The audience included “ladies of distinction and other people of the greatest quality”, much like our own FEG gathering! Unlike that occasion, we won’t be requesting that the men remove their swords, or the ladies the hoops underneath their dresses. The music Hall is, alas, no more, but the “noteworthy” event lives on in the name of the adjacent Handel’s Hotel, half way down Fishamble Street. Beethoven described Handel as “the greatest composer that ever lived, and his friend, Jonathan Swift described him as “A German, and a genius, a prodigy ”!
Christchurch, from it’s beginnings as a wooden church, erected by the Christianised Danish Viking, Sitric (Sigtryggr) Silkenbeard, in 1038, has always been at the centre of Dublin.
Later rebuilt in stone in the Romanesque style in 1172 by Archbishop Laurence O’Toole and the Anglo-Norman knight, Strongbow or Richard Gilbert de Clare, it later adopted the Early English Gothic style of architecture, under Archbishop Comyn, and many extensions, rebuilds and changes followed. It was , however, its restoration in the Victorian era with funds from a whiskey distiller, Henry Roe, that is responsible for the largely Neo-Gothic style of architecture you see now. It was at that point, in the 1870’s, that the covered bridge, running from the cathedral to the Old Synod Hall, (Now housing Dublinia, the Viking multimedia exhibition centre) was erected. Their excellent interactive site showing the progression of the formation of Dublin and life in Viking and Medieval times and is well worth checking out.
It was then, too, that the old stocks, dating from 1670, were transferred to the crypt, along with many of the statues from the old Tholsel (Tax house or City Hall). The Tholsel had stood opposite a medieval cross marking the centre of the town, and was demolished.
One of the largest medieval crypts in Britain and Ireland, it is full of atmosphere but no longer, thankfully, the rats and mice of former years.
Our sincere thanks to Dublin Bus for their kindness towards us in donating many of the tickets necessary for getting delegates into town from the airport. Interestingly, the origins of bus services in Dublin go back to the first horse tram, the Terenure route, in 1872, the same year Christchurch was renovated by George Edmund Street, architect, in Neo-Gothic style. You can download a Dublin Bus App for your phone, here to access real time information on when your next bus is due, as, like most Dubliners, they just love modern technology.
We hope you will enjoy the good food, company and surroundings of Christchurch Cathedral and thank them for providing this magnificent venue and facilitating this reception.