Secrets Beneath Christ Church: Mummies, a Coffee Shop and Jonathan Rhys Meyers?

21 Apr

About half a kilometer from Ireland’s National Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral rests atop the hill at the end of Lord Edward Street. Here in the heart of medieval Dublin, the Cathedral, in some incarnation or another, has stood for approximately a millennium.

The oldest and arguably least ascetically pleasing of Dublin’s tourist-trapping churches, Christ Church was still my favorite to visit, simply because of the novelty of the medieval crypt located below the main floor.

The cathedral’s lack of opulence, when compared to St. Patrick’s, may nonetheless be excused by the numerous renovations the cathedral has faced over the centuries- most notably the Victorian restoration of the Cathedral in the 1870s, sponsored by distiller Henry Roe of Mount Anville. The eastern end of the cathedral was at this time built over the crumbling crypt.

The undercroft of Christ Church contains the largest crypt in Britain or Ireland, originally constructed in 1173 and finally renovated in the early 2000s. Here visitors can discover Ireland’s oldest non-religious carvings, two statues that once stood outside of Dublin’s medieval city hall. More dramatic perhaps are the stocks, once housed in Christ Church Place, and used to publically punish convicted criminals in the seventeenth century. Another notable treasure of the crypt is the tabernacle and candlesticks, used in mass during the brief period when Catholic King James II had fled from Britain to Dublin. However, the most amusing artifact located beneath Christ Church, may well be the cathedral’s “mummies.” 

The remains of a cat and rat can be found (across from the crypt’s café and gift shop) in the crypt, where the have made their eternal resting place. According to legend, the cat and his prey were entrapped in an organ pipe during chase. James Joyce even alluded to the novelty of the dehydrated Tom and Jerry; in his novel Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce uses the simile “as stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ.”

Another less historic exhibit below the cathedral is a display of costumes from Showtime’s “The Tutors,” which had used Christ Church as a filming location. The television series evolves around the melodramatic private life of Britain’s King Henry VIII, who did convert Christ Church Cathedral into a Protestant church during the Reformation in 1539.

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