Adventures in Dublin: St Michans Crypt and the 800 yr Old Crusader
When I asked for recommendations about what to see in my one day in Dublin, readers offered a lot of great suggestions, including a few places I never would have found on my own. One of these was the crypt at St Michan’s Church.
It was recommended based on my love of historical ghost tours, so I went to their website to check it out. Turns out they have mummified corpses. That would definitely be different!
Tour hours on Saturday only run 10-12:45, so as soon as I had landed and checked in to my hotel I headed over to the church (in near-gale force wind and rain).
The church itself is very modest. There’s a small gift shop off the anteroom where you purchase tickets.
The sanctuary is small, but features some lovely stain glass and a pipe organ.
The real appeal (or not) lies in the ancient crypts beneath. I only had to wait about 5 minutes before our gregarious tour guide Peter came and collected us. We descended down some very steep stone steps (watch the drop and your head around the fourth step!) and entered a narrow hallway running the length of the church.
Note: No pictures were allowed inside each room, so all in-room pictures have all been borrowed from the St Michan’s website.
Here we learned about the history of the crypt and the factors that resulted in the corpses becoming mummified – limestone construction, damp air at a constant temperature, and several other things. We also learned how the mummies were discovered, since apparently opening a coffin is illegal in Dublin. The wooden coffins were stacked on top of each other to make more room. The weight from above often caused the bottom coffins to break open, and thus the bodies were discovered.
This portion of the crypt also contained the Sheares brothers who died in the 1798 rebellion.
The second part of the tour was the most interesting disturbing. Here we got to see some of the bodies that had been found. 3 were around 300 years old, still with skin, nails, and hair intact. One came with a mystery – he was missing a hand. This would imply he was a thief, but thieves were unworthy of being buried beneath the church, so had he reformed? Or was it just an injury or childhood illness?
And then there was the last occupant. The fourth body (in the back of the room) was that of a crusader from ~800 years ago. He was 6’6”, tall by today’s standards and a veritable giant back then. And everyone on the tour was allowed to enter the room individually and gently touch his hand. I had absolutely no desire to do so, but in the end wondered if I’d regret that I hadn’t. Now having done it – it felt rather like fine grain sandpaper – I’m unconvinced I needed to. But definitely now it’s a conversation starter (or ender).
I found the tour incredibly interesting, and also entertaining, thanks to the tour guide, Peter. He intermixed history with humor, and played to the children in the group with a bit of ghost tour ambience. If you’re in Dublin, this is definitely one of the more unusual points of interest you should see!
Disclaimer: all “facts” mentioned above were told to the group by our tour guide and I have not independently verified them. So apologies if it’s impossible for the crusader to be 800 years old or martyrs to be buried underneath the church.
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