October 16, 2007
St. Michan’s Church was founded in 1095 and largely re-built in 1686 on the site of 11th century Hiberno-Viking church. For 5 hundred years, it was the only parish church in North of river Liffey. It is located near the Old Jameson Distillery and the Four Courts in Dublin‘s city center.
St. Michan’s Church may not be on the top 10 must-see list, but it certainly has its uniqueness. From outside, the church looks like a boring gray building that has nothing to catch your eyes. But inside, there are several arts and crafts items related to the church displayed including the beautiful wooden curving of music instruments placed above the organ, which Handel is said to have played. (See photo.)
However, the main attraction of St. Michan’s Church has to be the underground cemetery, where mummified bodies can be viewed. There are several door ways to enter the vaults, and you can only visit there with a guided tour (fee).
According to the guide, there was no intention of mummifying the bodies. As bodies inside the caskets were put in the vaults, the natural temperature and the humidity of the area took the course, and preserved the bodies unexpectedly. There are 10 or so rooms in each vault. Many of them are closed and cannot be seen according to their family’s wish.
One of the rooms I saw had several bodies inside the open caskets. Some of them were believed to be the bodies of crusaders. (Their legs are crossed.) One guy seems to have lost his foot. The guide told me that the foot was cut off probably because he was to tall to fit inside the casket. (!) One of the other crusaders had only 1 finger left in hand. In old days, the vaults were open to the public for free entry, and people were touching his fingers for good luck. (!!)
One of the room has the coffins of the Sheare brothers, who were executed by the British after the 1798 Rising. When their old coffins were replaced with new ones at the bicentennial commemoration in 1998, they discovered that the standard British punishment for traitors had been enacted, and the bodies had been hanged, drawn and cut up.
In the church graveyard, there are other well-known people resting, including Oliver Bond, who were involved in the 1798 Rising, and a mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. It is also believed that the body of Robert Emmet, who were executed during the 1803 Rising, are also here at St. Michan’s.