St. Michans Church

The St. Michan’s church is a church that you’ll find in Dublin, Ireland. The church may look unimpressive on the outside, it sure is impressive on the inside. Just like its history. Underneath the church you’ll find a crypt with perfectly preserved mummies. But some have been vandalized recently and they are not very happy. 

The history of St. Michans Church

The church, as we know it today, was built in 1686, but it wasn’t the first church on site. In 1095, a Norse chapel was built on the exact same location. That chapel was built to serve the ostrazed Vikings who remained in Ireland after a man named Wolf The Quarrelsome and his forces killed or kicked out the other Vikings. The St. Michan’s Church is still the only surviving parish church on the north side of the River Liffey that stands on a Viking foundation.

Looks can be deceiving

St Michan's Church - Paul Shanahan via commons.wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0
Paul Shanahan via commons.wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0

The St. Michan’s Church may look a bit unimpressive on the outside, there’s much more than meets the eye. For instance, the interior of the church contains fine woodwork and an organ which dates back to 1724. It is said that George Frideric Händel himself played his masterpiece “Messiah” here for the first time. The original organ case still exists, although it now houses a “new” organ, which was built in 1940. But, that’s not all that makes the church special: underneath it you’ll find a crypt which contains many perfectly preserved mummies.

The mummified bodies of St. Michans Church

There are several reasons for the mummies to be in the shape as they are today. The vaults are walled with thick limestone walls, which are known to contain dry air. Also, St. Michan’s Church was built upon former swamp land. The methane gas is still acting as some kind of preservation method. And last but not least, there’s oak wood in the soil which also preserves very well. The coffin’s wood is an entirely different story. Wood doesn’t get preserved and gradually some coffins are falling apart, exposing the bodies inside. Of course, this attracts visitors and tours are given. But, unfortunatley, not all visitors keep their hands to themselves.

Vandals in the crypt

William Clements Coffin - Reverbstudios via commons.wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Reverbstudios via commons.wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1996, the crypt was vandalized and if that isn’t bad enough, it happened again in 2019. This time, the vandals desecrated some of the mummies. These included a 400-year-old nun and an 800-year-old 6,5 foot (1.95 m) tall mummy known as “the Crusader”. The crypt was closed for the public for several months, but it re-opened again in Summer that same year. The Crusader had been decapitated and the head has only recently been returned. The nun was decapitated as well, though her head was still inside the coffin. Another corpse was turned around in the grave, and got damaged in the proces. The head and some bones resurfaced again and were sent to the National Museum of Ireland because they had sustained damage.

The Big Four

The Crusader is one of the so-called “Big Four” mummies. Their bodies are completely exposed so visitors can see them. They are resting all closely together, with the tall Crusader lying down above their heads. The Crusader is believed to have participated in the Fourth Crusade. This makes it odd that he’s been buried in the church’s crypt, because the church never gave permission for this particular crusade. Because the Crusader had been far bigger than most people back in the days, his legs had to be broken and folded underneath his body so that he could fit in the small coffin.

Jennifer Boyer via Flickr CC BY-2.0
The Big Four – Jennifer Boyer via Flickr CC BY-2.0

The corpse on the right is a corpse of a woman. Not much can be told about her, all her name tag says is “The Unknown”. The man in the middle is named “The Thief”. He was given this name because his right hand is missing. Both his feet are missing, too. The thief must have converted later and became a priest or a respected man, otherwise he would have never been put in the crypt. And finally, there is a small woman on the left. She is the 400-year-old nun whose body has also been desecrated.

The Sheare Brothers

Two brothers, Henry and John Sheare, were also laid to rest in the crypt. They were executed (drawn and quartered by the British) for the Rising of 1798. Many Irish earls have been buried in the crypt as well as the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. Bram Stoker visited the crypt when he was young. Perhaps it gave him inspiration?

Whispers and mumblings

St Michan's crypt - Jennifer Boyer via flickr CC BY-2.0
St Michan’s crypt, the Sheare Brothers – Jennifer Boyer via flickr CC BY-2.0

People who have spent time in the crypt by themselves claim to have heard whispers and mumblings. Perhaps these noises are caused by the chuch up above, but they might be something paranormal. People also have the feeling as if they are being watched in the crypt and some even say they have been touched by unseen hands. Perhaps it is the desecrated mummies in the crypt who are angry for what happened to them?

St. Michan’s Church Today

Normally the crypt is open to the public, but be sure to check if it’s open before you go because of Covid-19.

Cover photo: Andreas F. Borchert via commons.wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0
Sources: wikipedia,,,, and
Address: Church Street, Arran Quay, Dublin 7, Ierland

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