St Michan’s Church of Ireland is located in the heart of inner-city Dublin, where worship has existed on this site since 1095, when it was originally built by the Vikings who dedicated it after a Danish bishop. The Church encountered a rebuild in 1685 and a large pipe organ was installed in 1724, on which Handel is said to have first played the Messiah when he visited Dublin during 1741-1742.
Most of St. Michan’s visitors come to view the crypts underneath the church where there are five long burial vaults containing the mummified remains of many of Dublin’s most influential 17th, 18th and 19th century families, including the legendary Sheare’s brothers who were executed by the British in response to the Rising of 1798. There are also the highly decorated coffins of the Earls’ of Leitrim.
There are a number of theories as to why the corpses in the crypts have been preserved over time. One is that the basement contains limestone, making it particularly dry and ideal for mummification and the preservation of the coffins. Another is that the church was built on former swamp land and that methane gas is acting as a kind of preservative for the bodies. Regardless of the reason, whatever is preserving the mummies is also disintegrating their coffins. After a certain amount of time the wood falls away and a well-preserved mummy comes tumbling out.
Only two of the crypts are open to the public for viewing. The most visible mummies are The Big Four, four mummified corpses which have no lids on their coffins and are displayed together. On the right is a woman, known as The Unknown. The one in the middle is referred to as The Thief because he is missing parts of both feet and a hand, (some say the hand was cut off as punishment). Next to him on the left lies a small woman known as The Nun.
Another vault contains the remains of the Crusader, claimed to belong to an 800 year old mummy. It is believed that he was a soldier who either died in the Crusades, or returned and died shortly afterwards. The Crusader was quite tall for his time (six and a half feet tall), and his legs were broken and folded up under him to fit him into his small coffin. He lies with one of his hands stretching slightly out of the casket and in the air. Legend has it that those who touch his finger will have good fortune.
- As of July 2017, you can no longer touch any of the mummies, so I am lucky to say that I rubbed the Crusader’s finger, before the ban.
- Nevertheless, a visit to the Crypts to see the historic mummies is a remarkable experience.
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