That said, it is still a Catholic country and there is a special grace in being able to discover some sliver of the spirit of a place so rich. First, the churches are beautiful. Within the center of the city, at least, there are churches just about everywhere which would be amazing cathedrals by American standards. They were, generally, open most of the time, which does not happen that much stateside anymore.
First, I arrived on Sunday morning and wanted to make sure I had a chance to attend Mass. As soon as the taxi dropped me off, I dropped my suitcase at the front desk and hiked over to John’s Lane Church.
In Ireland, at least, I suppose because there are so many churches, they are often referred to in generic terms. John’s Lane Church is dedicated as St. Augustine & St. John the Baptist Church, but besides a mention on the sign next to the door, it isn’t known by that name.
The 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning is quiet with no choir or organ. By the end of the Mass, there was a fair crowd. John’s Lane Church isn’t a parish church but the priory for the Augustinian Order who also staff the parish church of St. Catherine’s a block or so away.
Within yelling range of John’s Lane Church were a handful of others that I didn’t visit inside—the aforementioned St. Catherine’s, St. Audoen’s (with a “modern” Catholic church from probably the 1800s that is home to Polish chaplaincy of Ireland which is next to the original structure from 1190 which is now part of the Church of Ireland), the Church of Adam and Eve (actually dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and is the Franciscan base in the area).
The Cathedrals in Dublin have an interesting history. For background, in the Catholic tradition, generally speaking, the world is divided into geographical territories known as dioceses. Each diocese is led by a bishop, who traditionally taught from a specific chair known as a cathedra. The cathedra was a symbol of the apostolic teaching authority of the bishop and had been mentioned in Christian writings dating back to Tertullian (d. c. 240). The church that holds the cathedra is known as the cathedral.
Since the purpose and definition of a cathedral is dependent on the cathedra, there is usually only one cathedral in a diocese with the occasional exception for “cathedrals of convenience” in another city within the diocese. For example, in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the cathedral is located in the original see of Galveston but as population shifted inland to Houston, the Pope granted permission for a second “co-cathedral” to be built in Houston while leaving Galveston as the formal see.
Alright, back to Ireland, Christchurch Cathedral (actually dedicated to the Holy Trinity) is and was the original cathedral for Dublin once it was elevated to a diocese in the late 1000s.
Later, St. Patrick’s was built. My understanding is was purpose-built to be a replacement cathedral and it would have helped iron out an issue festering at the time since a religious order governed Christchurch. In any case, Christchurch wasn’t going to go quietly into this good night until 1300, the Pacis Compositio compromise was reached.
I couldn’t find the original or a translated version online, but per Wikipedia, this granted Christchurch the formal precedence over St. Patrick’s, but both would share in the duty and freedom of being “the cathedral”.
St. Patrick’s, now under the Church of Ireland, sadly, felt more like a museum than a holy site. With a €6 admission fee, a gift shop in the back 20%, interactive exhibits, and whatnot, it was a beautiful museum.
Our cathedral story isn’t over. Ireland was governed in lordship by the King of England who, as we know, split England out of the Catholic Church. The English Reformation yielded the Church of Ireland on the isle, which took possession of both cathedrals.
The Roman Catholic Church never transferred the status from Christchurch and, still today, claims alongside the Church of Ireland that Christchurch is the Cathedral. Given that it is under the Church of Ireland, there are no Catholic activities within Christchurch.
The Catholic Diocese eventually erected St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, meaning the “acting Cathedral”. Some other dioceses impacted by the English Reformation have pro-cathedrals to serve in place of the former cathedrals now under the Anglican churches.
For the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, St. Mary’s had a Holy Door. As an aside, I was surprised how many random homes and businesses had a decal of the Jubilee Year posted. The holy year logos never really took off in Texas; it was a nice reminder that the Church has invited us to spend this year with this theme.
Whew. Alright, enough about cathedrals.
Back to churches that go by different names. Whitefriar Street Church was a hidden gem that I still can’t figure out the formal dedication. With the entrance being part of the Carmelite Priory, it didn’t look like a grand church. After walking through a hallway and entering the church, the gem revealed itself.
I didn’t do any research of churches prior to the visit, so I was surprised while visiting the side chapels to see one with the relics of St. Valentine. Relics are venerated in the Catholic tradition. They are sometimes the actual bodies of a saint, or something they owned, or something that had been in contact with their body.
The veneration is supposed to help us remember that these holy people are ever-forming the foundation of our faith (why altars are built with relics inside/under them) and that they were flesh-and-blood normal people whom we can learn from to become saints in our own time.
In the 18th century, what are thought to be St. Valentine’s remains were disinterred from the catacombs in Rome. While his skull remains in Rome, the rest of his remains were given to an Irish priest by the pope to bring to Ireland for veneration. A bit of a surprise to see that during my morning walk!
Whitefriar Street Church also has an 12th century wooden statue of Mary with the child Jesus, which is enshrined under the title “Our Lady of Dublin“. A beautiful shrine with an incredible ancient statue.
Christianity in Ireland isn’t all beauty. In addition to the horrific sexual abuse and the following injustice by church leaders, there were problems in at least some maternity homes. In both Catholic and Protestant “Mother and Baby Homes”, there were conditions that I’m still in disbelief—mothers being in virtual servitude to “work off” the cost of their care, malnourished children, children who died being buried in mass graves, and more.
In the Temple Bar—the big touristy pub district—a group erected a monument to those children. It is a powerful reminder that we are not only called to provide for those in need, we are called to provide the best care for those in need. St. Benedict says we are to receive guests as Christ. These mothers and children should have been received like Christ and those today who benefit from Catholic/Christian social services should be individually treated like we should treat Christ.
Lastly, on Saturday evening, I made it to St. Teresa’s Church for Mass and reconciliation. This church is surrounded in the commercial, happening part of the city center and was surprisingly full for their Saturday evening Mass. Following Mass, they had adoration and benediction that overflowed from the decently-sized side chapel with probably a hundred or more people present.
In the end, I greatly enjoyed this aspect of Dublin. It was natural and easy to sneak into a church for a few minutes of quiet reflection while in the midst of the city.