Christchurch Cathedral (above)
Cathedral count: 2 protestant, 1 catholic
Dublin has three Cathedrals: St. Patrick's and Christchurch, both Church of Ireland (Protestant), and St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral (Catholic). St. Patrick's is the national cathedral of Ireland, and Christchurch is the cathedral of the city of Dublin. Both were originally Catholic, as they pre-date the reformation by hundreds of years, but became Protestant under Henry VIII in the 1530s and have remained so ever since. As Christchurch retains the status of the city Cathedral, the Catholic St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral cannot be a full cathedral, hence the name (pro-cathedral means “acting cathedral”).
St. Mary's (photo above) was built between 1815 and 1825 on the site of a 12th-century Cistercian Abbey of St. Mary. The church is noted for its Palestrina Choir of men and boys (established 1903). The cathedral is built in the Neo-Classic Doric style, which provides a distinct contrast to the Gothic Revival look of most other churches of the period. St. Mary’s is located north of the Liffey River on Marlborough Street, one block east of O’Connell.
Pew carving detail at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral.
St. Mary's is not an official cathedral, even though it functions as one. Back when Christchurch Cathedral was built, the pope consecrated it as the Catholic cathedral of Dublin. Although Christchurch has been Protestant since the 16th century, no pope has ever revoked its original designation. Since a city can have only one Catholic cathedral, St. Mary's cannot enjoy that status until Christchurch's cathedral designation is revoked.
Both St. Patrick's (c. 1191) and Christchurch (c. 1030) Cathedrals are located south of the Liffey near Dublin Castle. St. Patrick’s is headed not by a bishop, but by a dean, the most noted of whom was Jonathan Swift, who served from 1713-1735 (when he wasn’t writing Gulliver’s Travels); Swift is buried inside. St. Patrick’s draws chapter members from each of the twelve dioceses of the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland Archbishop has his seat at Christchurch Cathedral. There was rivalry and animosity between the two religious institutions until 1300, when Archbishop Ferings of Dublin arranged an agreement between the two cathedrals, the Pacis Compostio, which acknowledged both as cathedrals and made provisions to accommodate their shared status.
From 1688-90, King James II of England and his fellow Roman Catholics briefly repossessed St. Patrick’s Cathedral (photo above). James, who was the last Catholic to rule over England, Ireland and Scotland, attended Mass services there with his Jacobite supporters during this time. However, the victory of the Protestants during the Williamite war meant that the cathedral was restored to Anglican ownership in 1690; James II abandoned Dublin after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, living out his days as a pretender in France.
There is no precedent for a three- cathedral city. In this regard Dublin is unique.