Not only can Ireland rival the pyramids with some of the oldest and most imposing tombs in the world but we can also give visitors to our isle the opportunity to touch a real-life mummy.
And that is just one of the many amazing features of St. Michan’s crypts, one of the not so well known yet must-see attractions for any tourist exploring Dublin. Believed to have acted as inspiration for Dracula-author Bram Stoker, the crypts, the foundations of which were built in the time of the Vikings in Ireland, contain the remains of the Sheare brothers who were hanged, drawn and quartered by the British; mathematician William Rowan Hamilton; the many Earls of Kenmare, and also claim the remains of Robert Emmet, the Irish rebel killed by the British in 1803, although other places have also laid claim to his corpse.
Located on Church Street in Dublin, the foundations of the church were first formed in 1095 by the Vikings while the church was rebuilt in 1686. It’s even rumored that Handel first played one of his most famous works “Messiah” on the large pipe organ installed in the church in 1724.
Although originally a Catholic Church, it has functioned as a Protestant Church since the Reformation. The exterior of the church may appear unimpressive but as with many of the best things in life, its secrets lie within.
Who exactly “Michan” was is still unknown but it is believed he was an Irish martyr and confessor who was probably a native of Dublin. His name is listed in the ‘Martyrology’ of Christ Church, a register of Christian saints and martyrs dating from the 13th century.
Above ground the church hasn’t changed over the years but below ground, among the soil, the crypts have never been altered, allowing for those buried there to undergo the process of mummification.
It is not known exactly why the St. Michan’s crypts create such perfect conditions that cause the bodies buried there to be turned into mummies. Some of the theories include the basement being made from limestone and keeping the corpses dry, that the church was originally built on swampy land and the methane gas is preserving the bodies, the possible presence of oak wood in the soil and that there must be some special building material used in the church.
Although the bodies in the crypts are well-preserved, the coffins that hold them are not and as the years wear on, the cases continue to crumble around the bodies exposing them to the outside world. Only two of the six crypts are currently open to the public but you can still see four remarkable mummies known as “the unknown,” “the nun,” “the thief,” and “the crusader.”
The main star is the 800-year-old “crusader”, believed to have been a soldier who either died in the crusades or died soon after his return to Ireland. This incredible mummy was a giant of his generation at six and a half foot tall and his legs have been broken and folded over to make them fit into the much smaller coffin.
With the coffin fallen away from around his body, visitors used to be encouraged to shake the crusaders outstretched hand but are now just allowed to touch his finger for fear that they may take the rest of the hand with them.
Anybody who visits this macabre vault can understand the influence it must have played on a young Bram Stoker who was already intrigued with many of Ireland’s darker folk stories. Spooky!