Secrets From Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral

Inside Christ Church, Dublin. Photo courtesy of

One of the things that I love about Ireland is that nearly everywhere you visit there is something unexpected. Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin is no exception.

The church was founded in 1030, although what is medieval and what is a Victorian renovation is difficult to define. It was an Augustinian priory for over 500 years until the Reformation, and the present dean and chapter are the spiritual and historical heirs to the Priors and Canons of the past.

Currently an archeological dig is taking place in hopes of discovering the original location and size of the first cloister. (You can follow the dig on Facebook)


Unveiling the Cathedral

When you are talking about such ancient history, there are no doubt many surprising things you can learn. Here are a few I learned, most from my friend, Patrick Comerford:

•The official name of Christ Church is The Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

•The elected president of Ireland has a reserved pew draped with her own insignia.

• Much of the television series The Tudors was filmed here.

•The cathedral has one of the finest collections of early modern silver in Ireland, including Communion Plate presented to the cathedral by William III (William of Orange) after he defeated James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Christ Church

Photo by Paula Funnell

•An unusual relic in the cathedral that survived the the Reformation is the heart of Laurence O’Toole, a 12th century Archbishop of Dublin, who died at Eu in Normandy in 1180 while he was making his way back to Dublin. Laurence O’Toole was only 32 when he was elected Archbishop of Dublin in 1162. He was the first person of Celtic of Gaelic descent to become Archbishop of Dublin — all his predecessors were of Viking or Norman origin.

•There are stocks in the crypt dating to 1670. Once they were moved inside the cathedral in 1870 they ceased to be used for punishment. Kind of gives new meaning to the term sanctuary, doesn’t it?

• Strongbow is buried there, probably…at least it appears so. His is the only tribute left upstairs. The others were moved to the crypt in the 1800s to preserve the beauty of the cathedral. And it’s definitely beautiful.

Finding the Surprise

Perhaps the most unexpected thing I saw at Christ Church (in the crypt) was a mummified cat and rat, permanently captured in a chase. Apparently the pipe organ had not been fully functioning for a while but it was not until the organ was serviced that the mummies were found. They are displayed behind glass and although there are many treasures to explore in the church’s underground crypt, this one is very popular, especially I’m told among young school boys. As a mother of boys that does not surprise me.

The sign at Christ Church Cathedral reads:


The one, presumably chasing the other, became trapped in an organ pipe in the 1850s and were mummified. They are referred to in James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” where someone is described as being “…As stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ…”

ireland 256

Photo by rowan72

Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter. Click photos for image credit.

Author: Cindy

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  1. Really interesting post! As a cat lover (and more generally, an animal lover), the cat/rat distresses me a little. 🙂

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    • It is a bit morbid, but having been there, I did find it interesting… as were the human mummies at St Michan’s Church in Dublin (really, I’m not a macabre person).

      You can always ask the attendants there where NOT TO LOOK, so you don’t have the mummy cat eternally burned into your brain 😉

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  2. After going through an intricate detail of the Dublin’s Tourism Industry provided by the website, right from the overview about the city itself to the various facts and spots to visit, it makes one want to be there and experience the beautiful city himself. The site for the benefit of the admirers of the charismatic city has provided a pool of information, that will obviously benefit the travel lovers.

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  3. Thank you for showing the Christ Church cat and rat mummies’ photograph. It is not likely that we will get to visit Dublin anytime soon since we live in USA. My 8 year old grandson was fascinated by the story which came to mind as we were driving to his harp lesson. His questions were “What color was the cat?”, “How did the cat get up there?”, and “Didn’t they notice the smell?” Well, God bless the cat and the rat and let us hope their suffering was short and as long as there are school boys these questions will be asked.
    Texan Granny

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Pam. I’m told that this is the most popular with kids. Great questions your grandson had! The smell? Well, let’s just say that all things (and people) did not necessarily smell as nice as they do today. 😉

      Post a Reply


  1. » Blog Archive » Dublin! - [...] Here are a few other odd things from the Cathedral. [...]
  2. The Mummified Cat and Rat of Christ Church Cathedral: Dublin, Co Dublin | Ireland Travel Kit - [...] Irish Fireside: Secrets from Christ Church Cathedral [...]

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