Health Warning: This post is intended as a history resource and contains a Lot of information. You’ve been warned !
Important Note 2: Note on photography, maps, and image credits. all photographs in this article are by the author, unless otherwise noted. I’m not precious about it but if you wish to use an image please contact me and if I provide permission naturally I’d like to get a basic acknowledgement and credit. Photographs not by the author are marked with the name of their photographer, or in the case of images from the net and/or where the photographer is unknown, marked either ”photo uncredited” and/or “photographer unknown”. (some older images maps and traditional works like engravings it is almost imposible to race the name of artist, or the name has even been lost) Obviously this site is not for commericial use so most of us are happy to share images. But if you are or if you know the artist or photographer responisble for an imgage please contact me via comments and I shall be delighted to amend and provide credit and acknowledgement. (Obviously if I am asked by a photographer to take an image down I’ll do so) Once again, please inform me if you wish to use or share my own images, and always provide a credit. Phew, that’s done! now for some history… Read on…
A couple of weeks back I wrote my little introduction and promised to follow up with more. Well… here goes. I hope you are all ready for some history ! This is a very long post, it is intended as a resource for people who really want to know some of the complex history behind early and medieval Dublin. For others you may wish to break up your trip, to pay several short visits, or none!
We’ll start with the very origins of the tiny church from the early Celtic era, Then, we’ll pick up the story again later, nearly 600 hundred years later, following theNorman invasion, as a new chapter opens, culminating in that tiny church becoming the great cathedral it is today.
What follows are three excerpts from my book explaining the complex events that followed, and the even more complex religious and political background to those events.
Part one: Saint Patrick, and monastic Ireland. 460s etc..
Part two: early Anglo-Norman Dublin. 1171- onwards-followed by… The story of the two cathedrals.
Story one: Patrick’s Well.
History: An introduction to Dublin- foundation, Vikings and Normans,
Part One: Patrick’s Well.
Sometime around the 460s, as Saint Patrick made his famous progress through Ireland, he stopped in the Poddle valley. This valley is near the area of what would – around four hundred years later- become the Viking city of Dyflin. Today this former small trading and slaving post is a large port and capital city. We know it as Dublin.
Back in the time of St Patrick of course, there was no Dublin city. But there was a ford across the river Liffey. In Irish this was the Átha Cliath- the hurdle ford, hurdles being the woven rushes on the ford.
Since people travelling down the coast needed to cross the Liffey at some point this ford was an important staging post, so almost certainly there was a settlement here. This was the Baile Átha Cliath, the town of the Hurdle Ford. It is still one of the Irish names for the capital today, visible on Dublin Busses.
Away to the south of the river Liffey, in the area of the smaller Poddle River, (today underground) was another small but separate cluster of settlement. Here stood a tiny, early Christian church. This was one of four Celtic churches in the area, variously founded perhaps by Patrick himself, or by the existing handful of Christians who preceded him.
This particular church was sited on a type of island formed by the two branches of the Poddle River. The little island church had a holy well. Tradition accounts tell us that Patrick used water from this well to baptize new converts, founding or at least increasing the tiny Christian community here. In other words, the small Celtic era church of Saint Patrick’s pre-dates the city of Dublin itself.
Eventually the saint proceeded on his way northwards towards Armagh. At some stage later, we don’t know exactly when- the holy well was covered with a carved stone cover, a wellhead in short.
Just over a hundred years ago, a stone wellhead was found at the exact same site. Confusingly, the Celtic style carvings were dated- by stylistic analysis- later than Patrick, to between 800-1100. This date means it may not have been the first wellhead. On the other hand it probably is the same stone. Since stone is durable, the original probably survived from Patrick’s time but was only carved later, as the cult of Saint Patrick grew. Either way, remember this artifact, sometime after 800 AD, was moved and misplaced. It would remain hidden, forgotten, buried, for many hundreds of years.
Saint Patrick’s tiny, ancient 5th century church would, much later (in the 12th century) become a mighty medieval cathedral. (We shall tell you the bizarre story how & why this in a while) This cathedral was hugely restored in the 19th century Victorian period, and additional work continued into the early 20th century. During this work, in 1901, the ancient carved wellhead that marked Patrick’s ancient baptism site was uncovered; revealed for the first time in perhaps a thousand years.
Above: Two views of the well head, that in my view, almost certainly covered the holy well used for baptism and conversions by Patrick himself in the Poddle valley in the 5th century. In the background of the second picture you can see a glimpse of some of the lovely memorial sculptures along the North wall of the cathedral.
Early History continued: The Origins and foundation of Dublin City.
Dublin only became a city long after Saint Patrick.
It was foreigners rather than the Gaelic Irish who founded Dublin as a city. From around 781, or some three hundred years after Patrick’s progress, the Vikings or Norse started to appear around the coasts and rivers of Ireland.
The first Vikings came from Norway, later ones from Denmark. They came at first as marauders, as raiders of monasteries and takers of slaves.
Traditional images of Norse/Vikings. Artists unknown.
It appears the first Norse settlement along the Liffey may have been at Islandbridge, where some spectacular Viking artifacts like armour, jewels and weapons were discovered in the 19th century. There may have been another large settlement some 70 K North of Dublin also, although this did not thrive in the long run and ultimately perished.
Later the Norse settled down, in both senses of that phrase.
A wonderful artist’s impression of an embryonic or small settlement elsewhere back in the Vikings’ native Scandinavia. (panting by an unknown Swedish artist) But, with the addition of the much larger river Liffey, this is probably very similar to how the tiny Norse trading post of Dyflin looked like for the first few years. For what it looked like later, see a picture a few paragraphs below.
The Norse now evolved and to some extent, changed their way and pattern of life. Although there was still a strong warrior culture, indeed perhaps even a warrior caste, many Norse becamesettled tradespeople- craftsmen and merchants. There had been hardly any large-scale urban settlement in Ireland prior to their arrival. But the Norse now changed that, founding not only Dublin but Cork, Limerick and Waterford too, all ports, on rivers, all cities built on trade.
A very useful map by The Ireland Story, with a link to their excellent website http://www.irelandstory.com. Note that the four current provinces of Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught, are joined by a fifth. If you look carefully at the khaki shaded area in the north and middle, you’ll see it is in fact divided in two, the central part being is the fifth traditional province of ancient Ireland, Meath. Note also the brighter green areas, the small but thriving ports founded by the Norse.
As the Norse changed their way of life, their Liffey base moved too, relocating eastward from Islandbridge to a new, much longer lasting settlement, located around what is now the South west of modern central Dublin. Viking Dublin was in the areas we now know as Christ Church, Temple Bar, the Civic Buildings and Dublin Castle. Many artifacts have been found here also, but they are of a different type to the Islandbridge hoard. Instead of armour and weapons we have evidence of trade and manufacture, metalwork and bone-work, especially combs, of food and drinks and coins and toys. All the evidence, in other words, of a thriving working, trading city.
Look at this fantastic artist’s impression by artist, educationalist & historian Iain Barber (thank you Iain) - of Norse Dublin at its zenith. Note the defensive stockade and, in particular- the ships at anchor in Dubh Linn, the former lake at the confluence of the Poodle joining the larger Liffey. As you see, most of the houses are still of timber. Only a few, very wealthy people had stone houses. This is of course Iain’s interpretation, based on much reading and research. My own, (admittedly secondary) researches to-date suggest there may have been a fort-like structure, and large meeting hall or halls, at the S.E corner, the corner nearest you in this picture, occupying toughly the site where Dublin Castle stands today. .
What about the rest of Ireland?
Let’s leave the Norse for a moment an look around the rest of Ireland, which was still by far the majority of the territory, still of course very Gaelic, and very different. By the this stage, as you know, thanks to the exertions of Patrick and others, Gaelic Ireland had long been a Christian land, with a vigorous monastic tradition.
Norse Power in Decline.
the Vikings, in contrast were still pagans. Although they assimilated to some extent, forming marriages and alliances, learning Irish language and customs and indeed becoming players in the politics of Ireland, the Vikings were slow to change religion, and they did not convert until much later. For centuries they continued to honour their own Norse Gods like Thor and Odin.
However, by the eleventh century Norse power was on the wane. Famously, they took a hammering at the battle of Clontarf in 1014, from the great Irish high king or Ard Ri Brian Boru.
Engraving of Brian Boru Traditional.
This setback prompted a change of heart, because in 1028 the Dublin Norse finally relented. In that year local Irish bishop Donat, -Dúnán in Irish- converted and baptized the Viking king of Dublin- a ruler with the wonderful name of Sitric Silkenbeard.
Above: an image of Sitric, minted onto this old, Viking-era, Dublin coin.
Dúnán and Sitric then made the long pilgrimage to Rome together. There they met the Pope. On their return they founded Dublin’s first, and of course only cathedral- Christ Church.
The founding of Christ Church cathedral.
Christ Church is scarcely one quarter of a mile away from Patrick’s little island church on the Poddle. It stood, and it still stands, on the dryer, frankly better, stretch of high ground that was once called the Brow of Hazels, overlooking the larger river Liffey. Well drained and close by the city, it was a sensible place to build a Cathedral, far better than the lower, marshy ground around the Poddle.
At first, like nearly all Norse Dublin, Christ Church was made of timber. Alas, we have no recorded image. But since the Vikings were master shipbuilders, perhaps it resembled something like a giant, upturned Longboat. I like to imagine the wooden ceiling like the great barrel vault of the famous Long Room, although this may be fanciful. In any case, the Christ Church was born. A hundred and fifty years later it would be re-built in stone. Some would argue the Cathedral was rebuilt twice, once by Normans and once by Victorians, but more about that later. The real point is, by around 1038, Dublin had its cathedral.
Since one Cathedral is enough for everyother city in the world, that should now be the end of the story. However, like all good Dublin tales, this one has a twist !
if you are not already exhausted, Read on…
The story of The Two cathedrals, part 1.
Background. There are two bits of background we have to know to understand the twist. First of all, in 1163, the Irish archbishop of Dublin Laurence O’Toole made Christ Church cathedral a Priory Order. This essentially meant Christ Church became a sort of Abbey or Monastery, ruled by Augustan cannons, and the cathedral was its church. This may not sound very revolutionary or even very political. But the significance will shortly become clear.
Secondly, and far more dramatically, Ireland was invaded. And here begins the start of the blog world longest ever digression. Please skip down to …. “The story of The Two cathedrals, part 2.” if you just want the cathedral part of the story and not all the political, Gaelic, Norman, Continental, church and political background!
In 1169 a small advanced party of Norman warriors landed in the Southeast of the country. There they rendezvoused with some troops loyal to a local deposed king; the infamous Dermot MacMurrough.
Background to the invasion> As every Irish school child knows Dermot MacMurrough, (Diarmid or Diramit Mac Muchadha in Irish) was king of Leinster. A few years before the Normans however, Dermot made enemies of another ruler, Tiernan O’Rourke, king of Brefni, by the age-old method of stealing Tiernan’s wife. Dermot then went one better, alienating the Ard Ri (the high-king) Rory O’Connor.
Rory and Tiernan had enough. They combined to oust Dermot from Leinster. Dermot lost his lands but was lucky to narrowly escape with his life. But he was a tough, crafty and determined type, and not content to skulk about in exile.
Desperate to regain his possessions, Dermot now went off to seek the help of the great Norman king Henry II. Henry was a remarkable man, father of two english kings, the husband of the equally extraordinary and strong willed Elenor of Aquitaine, and the one of the most powerful men in Europe.
Above, traditional images of the remarkable Henry II, and his equally remarkable wife, Elenor of Aquitaine.
As Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Duke of Aquitaine, as well as the king of England Henry was immensely rich and powerful. In fact, his lands in France alone were, bizarrely, even bigger than the king of France itself. So, well I won’t bang on about, you get the general idea, Henry really was a very powerful man.
A map of showing the extent of Henry’s lands and realm in Europe, including his kingdom in England, his de facto control of Wales and his vast estates in France, where he was once a count and a Duke two times over. From an Irish perspective this map is curious, as it shows his writ as extending right to the Shannon. Depending on your interpretation, this is either too modest or far too optimistic. To see what i mean read on.
Beside this vast Angevin empire, Henry’s Norman warriors, with their chain mail and cavalry horses were the best of the time, famed for martial prowess.
Now all this of course, is exactly the kind of help a bitter & determined Irish king-in-exile tends to seek out, in times of need. Accordingly Dermot was traipsing across England looking for Henry. But, at first, to no avail. Henry was culturally far more French than English, and seemed to prefer the former country. So, after his fruitless trek across Britain, Dermot eventually found Henry at his fabled court in Aquitaine, in Southwest France. (Henry’s famed son Richard the Lion-Heart incidentally, was later much the same, living in France rather than England, when not on crusade)
There at Henry’s court, Dermot told his sorry tale. He made his petition for aid. And, of course, he offered Henry his own feudal-style submission in return.
You can be sure Henry listened with great interest. Because, by extraordinary coincidence, it is generally believed that Henry had a letter from the Pope, giving him permission to conquer Ireland.
Even if this document-known as “Laudibiliter”- really existed, (it is has not survived but many historians believe in it) Henry had never acted on it in the past. Perhaps he preferred to keep it as a “card in reserve”.
Even now however, even as this golden opportunity presented itself, Henry didn’t in fact give Dermot any money, or any soldiers. But he did give Dermot something else. This was a kind of letter. This document gave Dermot his royal blessing and his permission, for Dermot to recruit from among Henry’s Norman subjects.
Dermot may initially have disappointed. History does not record. But clutching this valuable letter, Dermot now went back to England. He tried to recruit some Norman knights in the city of Bristol but had no luck there. Then he went to Wales. There at last, on the Marches of Wales, he found a hard-up earl. He was called Richard de Clare, the 2nd earl of Pembroke, - but better known to Irish history, as Strongbow.
Again Dermot told his tale and he now proposed a bargain. If Strongbow helped recover Dermot’s throne, Dermot promised him vast tracts of land; his daughter’s hand in marriage, and even promised to make Strongbow his own heir, as ruler of Leinster.
It is not given to many men to have a tilt a being king. But that, effectively, was what Dermot now offered Strongbow. The Welsh-Norman Lord was not particularly well-off. Nor was he in favour with his own king. Strongbow had backed Henry’s rival in the civil war for England (Stephen) Although he had kept his small estates in Wales, Henry had not really forgiven him. Strongbow knew he could expect little in the way of favour, patronage or advancement from his powerful overlord. So, with little other prospect for glory or advancement, Strongbow soon made up his mind, to have a crack at this adventure in Ireland. He said Yes.
So, the arrivals in the southeast in 1169 were of course the small vanguard of Strongbow’s Norman invasion force. Although initially successful, they were badly outnumbered. They were in fact lucky to survive the winter. (They even hid in a forest for several months.) But in April the following year, they were reinforced, when Strongbow arrived with more knights, archers and men-at-arms. This combined larger force first attacked and defeated Wexford. Then they captured the much larger seaport of Waterford.
In this defeated city of Waterford Strongbow wed Dermot’s daughter Aoife. In line with their agreement this marriage put Strongbow in succession to inherit Dermot’s kingdom, an event immortalized in the enormous, and highly romanticized 19th century painting by Daniel MacLeish.
The artist depicts the smoldering ruins of Waterford, In fact Waterford was a Hiberno-Norse town, there were no Gaelic warriors there. But the wedding-in-a-defeated-city setpiece was just too good, too ladden with potent nationalist imagery, for MacLeish to resist.
In the centre, Strongbow stands impassively in front a row of massed Norman knights. Dermot looks on as a bishop performs the ceremony. His daughter, the bride Aoife bows demurely, thinking who knows what private thoughts?
Defeated Gaelic warriors lie supine in defeat or death; an Irish woman laments; while a Celtic harper grimly stares into space.
With Waterford defeated, and Strongbow now in succession, the Normans now marched on the big prize, also previously part of Dermot’s possessions- Dublin.
The Normans attack Dublin !
Guided by Dermot, and cleverly taking the hill passes through the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, they evaded a much larger army marshaled by Dermot’s enemies Rory and Tiernan. By this route, to the surprise and dismay of the Hiberno-Norse city of Dublin, the mounted, mail-clad aliens arrived at the city walls, in September 1170.
Dublin’s archbishop of the time was Laurence O’Toole. Laurence was also brother-in-law to Dermot MacMurrough. He came to the gates and attempted to facilitate a peaceful settlement between Norse and Norman- (neither people often noted for their gentle, placid nature). But as negotiations dragged on some Norman knights lost patience. They broke into the city and started to attack.
Some Norse ran for the boats to escape by sea, planning to return and re-capture the city. Others stayed and fought. With the die now cast, the other Normans joined the attack. The remaining defenders were forced into their stockade stronghold. It became their last redoubt. Overwhelmed now, the Dublin Vikings were as the Welsh Norman chronicler Gerald of Wales, or Geraldus Cambrensis coldly put it, the Norsemen were: “slaughtered in their citadel”. (it is this mention of citadel, incidentally, that makes me and others wonder about a fortress on the approximate site of Dublin castle, but anyway..)
Image of early medieval warfare by artist Cecil Duoghty.
The Normans had taken Dublin.
But perhaps more surprisingly, against all the odds, despite two counter-attacks in the next six months, one each by much larger Viking then Gaelic armies, the Normans would hold the city.
In that period King Henry calmly waited to see if Strongbow and his little band would survive the year. It was frankly, a matter of complete and utter indifference to him. But when they did survive however, the king decided he better come over to Dublin to show who was in charge. He arrived the following winter of 1170-71.
Stage II of the Norman Conquest.
Strongbow was Henry’s vassal, so the earl quickly rushed off to meet Henry to make his submission and loyalty clear. It was especially important for Strongbow to do this, because Henry did not like him and Strongbow knew it. The king was certainly not going to allow a group of his minor barons to carve out an independent kingdom right on his doorstep.
There was another reason. Aside from being one of the most powerful men in Europe in general terms, the king was carrying an very big stick. Henry was leading at the head of the largest army ever seen in Ireland. They were also wielding the best armour available at that time. This was the medieval equivalent of having a nuclear bomb pointed at you.
Most Gaelic kings and chiefs took one look at Henry’s army and quickly reached the same conclusion as Strongbow. They took one look at Henry’s vast, and vastly superior army- the medieval equivalent of an atomic bomb- and decided to submit.
But Henry was clever, and had come prepared for this too. He had a second army, one of lawyers and clerics. He also carried tons of vellum paper and sealing wax, precisely for documents like treaties and sworn oaths of loyalty.
One by one the Gaelic Lords submitted. Even the high king Rory O’Connor came around to this way of thinking. In 1175 he went over to England to make peace with Henry, in the Treaty of Windsor. In feudal terms, this treaty meant Rory recognized Henry as overlord, and owed him “fealty” (allegiance) and tribute (of cow hides). In return Rory kept all his lands outside the Dublin-Meath “Pale”. Additionally the Irish outside the Pale were allowed maintain their customs and freedoms intact.
In the end neither Henry nor Rory kept their side of the deal. Rory did not pay the stipulated tribute, and Henry -distracted by war in France- would or could not stop Norman barons carving out additional small territories in Munster.
Nonetheless, something very important had happened. As far as all future kings of England were concerned, Ireland was now a crown possession. In mainland Europe, to the feudal mind, sworn oaths of loyalty were sacred. Local Gaelic kings lived in a distinct culture and they did not suffer from this European medieval mindset. They took a far more liberal view of the new arrangement. To them the agreement was convenient, but largely symbolic. In any case, outside the Dublin area it made little practical difference. Soon the Gaels acted as they always had.
As always Dublin was different to the rest of Ireland, as it had been under the Norse, and as it would remain for hundreds of years.
Nonetheless medieval kings of England legally at least, now had, some new territory. They called their new possession the ‘Lordship of Ireland”. Henry made his second son, John the Lord of Ireland, when John was only 12 years old.
This was the same Prince John of Robin Hood fame. In contrast to his legendary older sibling, the crusader Richard Lion-Heart, history has not been kind to John.
Early Anglo-Norman Dublin.
John was of course much too young for this Irish mission. In political or diplomatic terms his trip was a complete fiasco. He was most interested in hunting dogs and in teasing Gaelic chieftains, by pulling at their long beards. However John did make some contributions. He brought over with him some settler lords whose descendants would be central to the history of Ireland, notably the Butler and Fitzgerald families.
The young prince also made some important commands. In particular he ordered the building of several major castles, including at Limerick, and of course, of Dublin castle. Dublin Castle would be the centre of British power in Ireland for the next eight hundred years, right up to the 1921 foundation of the Free State. The Normans, who were superb engineers and architects, also began to replace the Viking wooden buildings and wooden stockade defenses with stone buildings, stone churches and high stone ramparts. Dublin became a walled city.
Prince John a medieval depiction here later in life as King John of England. Visited Ireland, and Dublin twice, unusually for an english crown prince or monarch of that time (although he was not heir to the throne on his first visit, he was Viceroy and Lord of Ireland
Following the Anglo-Norman conquest, for over three hundred years, English control in Ireland was ruled from Dublin castle. Yet that rule was in reality restricted to that small area around Dublin, Kildare and Meath called the Pale. Dublin was now an island, a small, isolated and colony, constantly under threat. This threat was graphically illustrated when a several hundred townsmen went out to play a game (of what appears to hurling )in 1200. That day they were ambushed and slaughtered by Gaelic soldiers, under the command of the Wicklow O’Toole family
There were other tiny pockets of Anglo-Norman landholding in Ireland, mostly in Munster, ruled by Anglo-Norman barons who claimed allegiance to the crown. But these families gradually assimilated to Irish ways. They were in any case isolated and thus almost entirely independent. In the remainder of the Ireland, the vast majority of the country, traditional Gaelic rule, law, customs and language continued unchanged. Nevertheless, the point remains, the kings of England were not going to forget whose country they believed this was. So, by treaty and oaths of loyalty, the Angevin/Plantagent monarchs of England were at least Irelands rulers de jure, of the entire island, while in reality, on the ground outside the Pale and the small Norman pockets of landholding elsewhere, Gaelic kings remained as de facto rulers of the land. This incidentally is what I meant about that earlier map of Henry’s realms being either too modest, or far too optimistic.
But, before this little digression we were speaking of churches and cathedrals. So now we must go back a few short years. As you will remember, just a few years before the Norman Conquest, the archbishop of Dublin Laurence O’Toole changed Christ Church Cathedral to a Priory order. You will also recall the Cathedral was then made of wood.
After the conquest, the victorious Strongbow ordered Christ Church to be rebuilt in stone, in an act of thanksgiving, for his miraculous triumph over the Vikings.
Laurence O’Toole stayed in place as Archbishop all this time, riding the waves of this momentous change (and- no doubt- very pleased about his nice new stone cathedral) Laurence eventually retired. Only at that stage did the first Anglo-Norman arrive, to take up the vacant seat of Archbishop. The senior cleric chosen by King Henry II to perform this powerful but sensitive job was a personal friend of his, the clergyman, judge and diplomat John Comyn.
(Here ends the political background, and world longest-ever digression !) Back to…
The story of The Two cathedrals, part 2. …
You will recall that the last Gaelic bishop of Dublin, Lawrence O’Toole, had made Christ Church a Priory oreder in 1163, only eight years before the Normans arrived! It badly cramped the new Anglo-Norman archbishops style. He could not even live there ! Now, even “ordinary” bishops are generally based in Cathedrals of course. So an Archbishop certainly expects a cathedral. However, John Comyn now found that the situation at Christ Church did not suit him. Not one bit. Oh no.
Firstly, the City Provosts, the municipal government, had a say in Christ Church. Archbishop Comyn could hardly tell them to butt out. Neither he nor Henry wanted to antagonize the townspeople of Dublin, a city they hoped to build into a successful, mercantile centre, of busy guilds and loyal, prosperous citizens.
But even worse was the situation with the Priory cannons, put in place by Comyn’s predecessor Laurence. Comyn could not remove these cannons any more than he could kick out the Provosts. Because at this time Comyn’s boss Henry was particularly keen to avoid angering the church, after he had first squabbled with then alienated his old and former friend, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas á Beckett. They had clashed violently over state or crown rights and prerogatives, versus the rights and prerogatives of the church. It had not ended well.
Henry disputing with Thomas á Beckett. This dispute did not end well.
The two men were forceful and powerful characters, and neither was prepaered to yeild. The whole row went very badly wrong when Henry cursed Beckett in the company of some of his knights and they took his words as a demnd to to slay the clergy man.
Not only was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas á Beckett murdered and hacked to pieces, . but significantly this crime was done when the sanctity of a cathedral, Canterbury cathedral, was violated. Much of Europe blamed King Henry for this shocking, outrageous crime. The Pope in Rome was keeping a very close eye on him. Henry came, was, very close to being excommunicated, a disaster for any medieval monarch. The king was now on his very best behavior. He was furiously building and endowing monasteries everywhere in atonement. These included one great monastery in the west of central Dublin, now sadly disappeared. This was Saint Thomas’ – which of course gives us the name Thomas Street.
In short, think about this now from a Dublin perspective. Clearly the king could not sanction booting out the cannons of Christ Church cathedral. In fact Henry endowed the Priory there, the Priory of the Holy Trinity, with more power and more land, making the Priors, like the monks of Saint Mary’s and in his own Saint Thomas’- wealthy and powerful landowners.
John Comyn’s Dilema.
So the cannons and friars of Christ Church were not going anywhere. Comyn quickly realized he could not base himself in the cathedral if he wanted to act with real independence. Yet, and yet, he needed a free hand to implement his reforms. You can see that there are wheels within wheels here, political and religious factors locally and internationally all played a part. Internationally, with Rome now in a dominent position, reform of the once great, highly distinctive and highly independent Celtic, Irish church was considered crucial by lots of important people- by the crown and by the church in England, and indeed the church and Pope in Rome.
In fact, it is more than that. Many historians contend that Henry’s permission for the conquest of Ireland, (in that document called Laudabilter from Pope Adrian IV) was made specifically in order to enact reform. In other words, reform was the cog of Henry’s quid pro quo with Rome. Quite possibly, it was now also the only thing between him and excommunication. Reform in short, was considered both urgent and vital.
Pope Adrian (or Hadrian) IV, the Pope back in 1155, when Henry was given his blessing to invade Ireland, but over 15 years before Dermot’s petition andStrongbow’s ambition, presented Henry with the opportunity for easy and (for him) bloodless conquest, and a whole new Kingdom to add to his collection.
Now however, all these competing and contradictory factors made a uniquely delicate situation for John Comyn. A series of contradictory demands made a very serious dilemma for him. He could not rule the cathedral-Priory, yet he needed real control. How could he make the necessary reforms? Where could he base himself and compete as a political player, and opperate from a position of real strength?
John Comyn’s Solution.
But the archbishop was a clever man. With a diplomat’s eye for the lateral move, he found the answer. In 1191 Comyn simply established a new seat.
His location was significant. Aware of the rich resonance of the past, Comyn chose the site of Saint Patrick’s ancient little island church, by the River Poddle. But the archbishop wasn’t going to perform mass in a tiny old ruin. Oh no. In keeping with his lofty status and authority, he built an impressive new church. It was designed in the style of architecture invented by the Normans, the Romanesque. For good measure , Comyn also constructed himself a splendid new Archbishop’s palace. He named it Saint Sepulchre.
Sepulchre is one of the most sacred names in Christendom. Because the original Sepulchre church, in Jerusalem, is on the very site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ himself. Incidentally it is also the name of an Abbey in Cambrai, in Normandy. So again, Comyn’s choice of names was both powerfully symbolic and at the same time, very Norman. We see other Norman names in Dublin foundations like Saint Audoen’s. (Corrupted from the church’s original name Saint Ouen- the patron Saint of Normandy)
John Comyn’s Mighty Colligate Church.
Finally, to really remind everyone who the archbishop was, Comyn raised his splendid new institution to the status of a Colligate Church. This meant Saint Patrick’s had one body of clergy for worship and another dedicated to education and scholarship. As this college developed it became one of the first universities in Ireland. *
(Saint Patrick’s has a unique relationship with education ever since. Archbishop Talbot founded a choral school there in 1431 that has operated almost continuously ever since, making it the oldest school extant in Ireland. much later, in the 17th century, St Patrick’s would gain the wonderful Marsh’s Library- built by Archbishop Narcissis Marsh. Once again, this is the earliest public library, not merely in Ireland but in Europe.)
The gated entrance to Marsh’s Library on Saint Patrick’s Close.
Comyn’s Colligate Church becomes a…
At a distance of over 800 years, is not entirely 100% clear when Dublin’s new Anglo-Norman archbishops went the extra inch and made St Patrick’s into a full cathedral, but if it wasn’t Comyn himself, it was certainly his successor Henri de Londres, (or simple “Henry of London” if you’re not a French-speaking Norman.) Like Comyn, Archbishop Henri was clearly vexed about the Christ Church issue. At first he, Henri, worked out his frustration with a lot of construction. He even re-built Comyn’s church again, even bigger! But certainly by 1213 if not before, Henri lost or had lost patience. Something radical, indeed unthinkable happened, something Dubliners now take almost for granted. Henri elevated St Patrick’s church to a full Cathedral.
Dublin now had a bizarre distinction. It became the first and only city in Christendom with two cathedrals. Yes, Not Rome, not Jerusalem nor Constantinople. Nope, Dublin! To give you an idea of just how odd this is, even now, eight hundred years later, a second cathedral of the same faith remains unique.
As you’d expect this unprecedented situation caused much confusion. There were long disputes between Christ Church and Saint Patrick’s, mostly over who had which precedents, rights and privileges. Who would enthrone each new archbishop? Where would he rest after death? Who would make religious rulings over the capital?
Some of these disputes, if not the rivalry, were resolved in 1300 by a Papal decree called the Pacis Composito. But you can be sure there is an element of rivalry to this very day, even if everyone is too polite to talk about it !
and that’s the end of the story of the 2 Cathedrals. ..
Thank you for reading
(and very well done if you got this far ! )
In a sense Saint Patrick’s cathedral is Ireland, encapsulated, its best and its worst. Go and see it when you can, and marvel at its many wonders.