Restless Spirits of St. Michan's Church in Dublin, Ireland
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When most people think of mummies, Egypt comes to mind. But there are actually mummies found across the world, and Ireland is no exception. In Dublin, there's a small church with a fascinating history spanning centuries. The history of that small church goes back to the Vikings, and it has created a few legends on its own.
Did You Know?
The Viking Era (793–1066 CE) and the Crusades (1096–1291 CE) nearly overlapped.
Where is St. Michan's Church?
But not everyone knows where Dublin is—or Ireland. So let's start there.
Dublin is the capital and largest city in Ireland. Around the 7th century, the Gaels established a settlement in the area, and in 841, the Vikings created their own settlement named Dyflin. The name looks and sounds similar to "Dublin," right? There's a bit of a debate about precisely who started calling it Dublin or the earlier Irish word "Duibhlinn" (which means "black pool").
By the 12th century, Dublin had become the principal settlement of Ireland. Fast forwarding several centuries, Dublin became the capital in the early 20th century.
Bram Stoker was born in Dublin, and some say his visits to St. Michan's Church may have helped inspire the story of Dracula.
History of St. Michan's Church
At some point during the Viking settlement of the area, the Vikings built a chapel on the site where St. Michan's Church now stands. In 1095, a Christian chapel was built—keeping the original Viking-built foundation. Over the centuries, it has been a Norse chapel, a Christian chapel, and a Catholic church. The place has changed hands quite a few times and has seen several renovations.
The crypt wasn't constructed until sometime in the 17th century and has since been preserved and expanded. Some stories place the construction even farther back, though there is still an ongoing debate about it. Rumors of whispering dead in the underground tunnels are said to go back centuries, and some say they've even felt the touch of a ghostly hand.
For a long time, the crypts were simply viewed as a series of vaults with coffins until some of the old coffins underground broke open under the weight of newer ones stacked on top. The ones that broke open revealed that the corpses inside were somehow mummified and preserved without special treatment.
Some speculation about the mummification's cause points to the crypt's limestone walls and the methane gas in the swamp below the foundation. The air is arid, and the temperature doesn't fluctuate much. Due to the environmental conditions in the crypt, nothing rots. Things just dry out. The bodies have skin that long ago turned leathery. They still have nails on their fingers, and some dried organs are visible.
Locals believe that all of the coffins may contain preserved mummies, but for now, this is just a theory, as none of the newer coffins have broken open. No one knows if those newer coffins contain mummies because opening a sealed coffin is illegal.
One of the mummies is known as "The Crusader"—a tall man with broken legs that are crossed—most likely done after death because he was too tall for his coffin. In addition to the Crusader, there's also a mummy known as "The Thief" (missing a hand) and another known as "The Nun" (a small skeleton of a woman).
Unfortunately, the records of St. Michan's—which may have documented each of the crypt's occupants—were destroyed in a fire when a bomb exploded in nearby Four Courts in 1922 during the Irish Civil War.
Some of the occupants are known, though, like John and Henry Sheares—brothers that were hanged, drawn and quartered, and beheaded.
The reports of disembodied voices in the crypts aren't attributed to anyone specific, though they seemed to have kicked up quite a bit around 1996 and 2019 when vandals struck.
Vandalism & Desecration of the Dead
In 1996, teenagers broke into the crypts and moved bodies out of their coffins, including one of a child. Police caught the teenagers, and the bodies were restored as much as possible to their original state.
In 2019, a man named Brian Bridgeman allegedly broke into the crypts, decapitated the Crusader mummy, and stole its head along with another skull. Supposedly, there was substantial damage done to other remains as well.
Police tracked him down four and a half months after the vandalism, and officials reunited the head with the body. I wasn't able to find any information on how the police managed to track down the culprit, but that's some next-level police work right there.
It's a bit unclear based on my own research, but St. Michan's crypts may have been previously open to wandering by yourself, but now you can only enter during certain hours and must be with a guide. If that's the case, it's really no wonder at all because people just can't seem to leave the dead alone to rest.
Relevant & Related
- Take a 2.5-minute video tour of the underground vaults in St. Michan's Church.
- Check out even more photos of St. Michan's Church over at Archiseek.com.
- A short interview and story from 2019 about the vandalism of the mummies, the restoration, and re-consecration.
- Another brief tour in Dublin of St. Michan's Church.
- And following along with an official tour guide of St. Michan's underground.
- Interested in oddities near Dublin? Here are a few more I've written about: Glaistig of Scottish Folklore | Owlman of Mawnan, Cornwall | Morgawr of Cornwall, England | Brown Lady of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England | Santa Compaña of the Iberian Peninsula