Tuesday, August 26, 2014

St. Michan's Church and Crypt

After walking around Smithfield, I saw a little sign for "St. Michan's Church & Crypt." It was quite understated, but I was interested, especially because I was doing research for my Dublin travel book. I walked around to the front of this very old church, and saw the old cemetery right away.

St. Michan's Church Cemetery Dublin, Ireland
St. Michan's Church Cemetery

Gravestone and Steeple at St. Michan's Church Dublin, Ireland
Gravestone and Steeple

I took some outdoor pictures before I saw the tour group on the side of the church going into this... hole in the foundation. No photos are allowed in the crypts, so I respectfully declined to snap tasteless selfies of myself with real human remains.

Entrance to the Crypt at St. Michan's Church Dublin, Ireland
Entrance to the Crypt

This was the crypt tour, I was just in time. At St. Michan's, there are two crypts that are open for visitors. Both are (understandably) only accessible by guided tour. One crypt (entrance shown in the photo) still has (technically) active burial chambers. These chambers are reserved for the wealthy aristocratic families who gave generous donations to the church centuries ago. In return, they received rights of burial in the crypt- in perpetuity. 

Other chambers are no longer active, as the title-holding families have died out. Most of the chambers have intact or semi-intact coffins, but others are random piles of broken wood and dry bones.

In the other crypt...

Photo from St. Michan's Website

One of the burial chambers has four well-preserved centuries-old mummies. The remains are so well preserved the dry air, underground temperatures, and methane gas (!) from the ground create tough conditions for decomposers. The skin, clothing, hair, and nails are all more or less intact.

One of the mummies (the one in the rear of the photo) was buried with his (yes, his) legs crossed, leading to a misconception that he fought in the Crusades. As such, his hand is severely damaged as IT APPARENTLY WAS GOOD LUCK TO SHAKE HANDS WITH THE BODY OF A CRUSADER. So for decades after the discovery of this man, visitors were paying visits to his burial ground to shake his hand...

Recent carbon dating has revealed that this body is about 200 years too young to have fought in the Crusades, but a friendly tour guide let some brave members of our tour group- myself included- touch a finger to the leathery, well-worn skin of this guy's hand.

The crypt tour is technically not free, but a visit to the church cemetery and sanctuary is. Crypt tours are given during limited hours and never on Sundays, so check the schedule here if you are planning a visit. 

I'll leave you with something I found both funny and spooky at one of the non-public crypt doors.

Entrance Only- No Exit! St. Michan's Church Dublin, Ireland
Entrance Only- No Exit!

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