A Dublin tale: Two cathedrals

Ed Forry

Tourism Ireland’s manager of group tourism Jean McCluskey hosted a Boston event last month for local travel agents and tour leaders to learn what’s new and different on the island. “Tourism Ireland is delighted to invite you to ‘Meet The Irish,’ she said. “Come and learn about Ireland’s new product for your group leaders and clients.”

McCluskey introduced six Irish trade suppliers on her sales mission, including representatives from Dunraven Arms Hotel, Adare; GPO Witness History, Dublin; Griffin Hotel Group; Manor House Hotels/Irish Country Hotels; and the two Dublin cathedrals, Christ Church and St. Patrick’s.

In interviews before the program, I learned about the two cathedrals in Dublin. Saint Patrick’s and Christ Church are located in Dublin 8, within a half mile of each other. Both belong to the Church of Ireland, dating back to the Reformation.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Marketing & Events officer Clarissa DeLap, a Brookline native now living with her husband in Dublin, spoke about its history: “St. Patrick’s is the largest cathedral in Ireland,” she said. “It is 800 years old, and was founded on the site of a well that St, Patrick is said to have used to convert pagans to Christianity. We welcome about 500,000 visitors annually to one of the most active tourist attractions in Dublin.

“We are an active place of worship with services twice a day, including song services with the choir every day.” She said a boys choir is trained “at the school across the road,” and St Patrick’s is open daily for public and private guided tours.

“We have a beautiful stained glass window showing the life of St. Patrick in thirty nine images, also statues and sculptures of St. Patrick throughout the church,” DeLap said. “Jonathan Swift, who was the dean here (1713-1745), is buried in the cathedral.” A regular feature is lunchtime recitals with visiting choirs, and “they happen almost every day between 1 and 2 p.m., she said.

Christ Church Cathedral: Said Susanne Reid, tourism development manager. “We opened up our belfry so people can climb up the 86 steps, go across the medieval roof, and right into the tower. You can have a go at ringing the bells at Christ Church Cathedral. There are 19 bells in the tower, the largest number at any cathedral in the world. People really enjoy that; it is something to remember.

“Last year was the 800th year (since) the Magna Carta was ratified, and Christ Church has its own copy. People get to see a manuscript of the Magna Carta, and it’s pretty special.” One of the odd attractions at Christ Church is a “mummified cat and rat” that was discovered years ago when workers were repairing an old organ.

As with St. Patrick’s, Christ Church officials welcome tourists, and although worshipers are welcome at all services, there’s a modest entrance fee for tours. “Tourism would be the principal source of income for the cathedral,” she said. “It’s a working cathedral, part of the Church of Ireland, Episcopal. Christ Church has a professional choir with 22 professional singers and a full-time music director. The standard of music is beautiful,” she said,

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin still recognizes Christ Church as its seat, although Catholic liturgies have not been celebrated in either cathedral in almost five centuries. In Dublin, the main Catholic church, St. Mary’s, is designated a pro-cathedral.

Christ Church’s Reid says a strong bond exist between Catholic prelate Diarmuid Martin and Church of Ireland leader Michael Jackson. “Both archbishops were together at Christ Church for evensong on the Eve of St. Patrick,” she said. “And on Good Friday both archbishops walked from Christ Church to St Mary’s.”

For more information online, visit christchurchcathedral.ie and stpatrickscathedral.ie.