The Mummies of St Michan’s, Dublin

My recent trip to Dublin was brief and busy, but luckily I still had a bit of spare time to hunt out some magic. Top of my list of places to visit was St Michan’s, an unassuming church just north of the river Liffey. From the outside, and indeed from the inside, it’s a rather simple place, calm and quiet. But the real magic lies beneath, in the church’s ancient crypt.
The church of St Michan's

The church of St Michan’s

Although St Michan’s was largely rebuilt in the 17th Century, its underground vaults are possibly much older. They are entered through heavy metal doors, built to keep out graverobbers and vandals, and once inside you will see why.

The door to the crypt of St Michan's

The door to the crypt of St Michan’s

The crypts of St Michan’s are the final resting place of some of Ireland’s great and good, their coffins elaborately decorated with velvet and gilded decoration. The tunnels are lined with dark vaults, each piled high with caskets, some of them well preserved, some of them collapsing under the weight of those above.

Coffins in the vault of St Michan's

Coffins in the vault of St Michan’s

But, interesting as they are, I didn’t come here to look at coffins. The highlight of any visit to the crypts  of St Michan’s are the famous mummies. For some unknown reason, possibly to do with the constant temperature, the dry conditions or the methane which allegedly seeps from the ground below, the bodies interred here are unusually well preserved. Over the centuries a few of them have been exposed due to their crumbling coffins, and these ‘mummies’ are now displayed for the benefit of visitors who have a  taste for the macabre, like myself.

The Mummies of St Michan's

The Mummies of St Michan’s

Myths and stories have evolved around the identities of these mummified bodies. One is said to be a nun. Another, who is missing a hand, is alleged to have been a criminal, his lower arm chopped off as a punishment. The most famous corpse is known as the ‘crusader’, and legend tells that he was once a courageous knight; at around 2 metres in height, he was certainly imposing. It is said that those brave enough to rub his finger will be rewarded with good luck.

I suspect that many of these tales may be more blarney than historical fact, but then the Irish never let the facts stand in the way of a bit of magic. Quite right too, I say. So did I rub the leathery, dessicated finger of the knight? Well of course I did. And have I been showered with good luck? Well, let’s just say I will keep you posted.

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2 Responses to “The Mummies of St Michan’s, Dublin”

  1. Fascinating, I’ve never heard of this place before.

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