To the north of the popular tourist destinations below the River Liffey, in an industrial section of the growing city, stands a somewhat unimpressive church. St. Michan’s church was founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1095. Parts of the structure date back almost 1,000 years ago, but the current church building was constructed the 17th century. Today, the Anglican church conducts services, and is open to the public for tours of the historic collections, including an 18th century pipe organ, upon which Handel is rumoured to have first played his masterpiece, Messiah.
While the church itself is historically significant, this story begins at a metal door outside the church, accessed through the cemetery. Through this locked door, down dark narrow steps, await the famed crypt and mummies of St. Michan’s.
When my friend told me I needed to visit St. Michan’s, she didn’t tell me anything else about it other than to go and ask for the tour. After a ghost tour of the city in which the guide told us at the pub that we needed to go as well, we put it on the itinerary for the next day. I was already familiar with Dublin north of the Liffey, but had never visited this corner of the city. The church is situated in an industrial and modern quarter, surrounded by cranes and construction in the spring of 2017. Upon entering the church, the guide took our Euros, then welcomed us to look around the church while we waited for the tour at the top of the hour. By this point, I knew what awaited us on the tour of the crypts.
The crypt beneath St. Michan’s is certainly atmospheric, with vaulted ceiling and stone walls, dark entrances to burials, and dust in the air. The air underground is dry (surprisingly for Ireland), and that, combined with the limestone, is thought to have naturally preserved the bodies buried in this crypt. The result is the St. Michan’s Mummies, which have attracted visitors since the 1800s, when Bram Stoker visited. In 2018, approximately 27,000 people visited the crypt.
The bodies that one can pay to see are those who were housed in coffins which have since deteriorated; no bodies were purposefully removed from their coffins for this purpose. The four mummies I saw on my visit have been dubbed “The Crusader,” “the Nun,” “the Thief,” and the mysterious “Unknown.” Prior to my trip to the church, visitors were encouraged to touch the finger of The Crusader for luck. The actual stories and histories of these remains are murky, and the legends that have grown around them seem more fiction than truth. However, the fact does remain that these bodies were buried here, probab