Fire destroys ancient mummies at St Michan’s church in Dublin


Dublin St Michan Church, tags: ancient michan's -

In a tragic incident, a fire broke out at St Michan’s Church in Dublin on Tuesday, causing significant damage to several ancient mummified remains.

St Michan’s Church, a site with roots dating back to 1095, has faced numerous acts of vandalism over the years. In a notable incident 28 years ago, the church experienced severe damage when mummies were desecrated, and graves were plundered. A vault was completely destroyed by fire, causing irreparable harm to around 80 naturally preserved remains. Despite reports at the time, the affected vault did not close permanently, and some mummies were saved.

In February 2019, the church faced another attack when Brian Bridgeman broke into the crypt, stealing the head of “The Crusader” mummy and a nun’s skull. Bridgeman was later sentenced to 28 months in prison, and the missing items were recovered nearly a month later.

Recent devastation of ancient mummies at st michan’s church

This week, St Michan’s Church suffered another setback when a fire destroyed or severely damaged several mummified remains, including “The Crusader” and four others dating back 400 years. Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin, expressed his devastation, noting that the fire brigade was quick to respond but significant damage had already been done. He described the mummies as a national treasure, crucial to Dublin’s history and a significant loss for both locals and tourists.

Archdeacon David Pierpoint, Vicar at St Michan’s, described the damage as “devastating” and expressed disappointment that despite their security measures, the site remained vulnerable to vandalism. He noted that most of the damage was caused by the water used to extinguish the fire and thanked the Dublin Fire Brigade for their quick response.

Investigation and response

A man was arrested following the incident, having entered the church’s crypt around 4 pm on June 11th and started the fire. CCTV footage aided in identifying the culprit, leading to his arrest and charging under the Criminal Damage Act. The investigation is ongoing, with Dublin Fire Brigade and Gardaí working to determine the fire’s cause.

Archdeacon Pierpoint has requested a forensic examination by the National Museum to assess the extent of the damage. He shared his concerns that at least two of the remains, including “The Crusader,” might have been destroyed due to the fire and subsequent water damage. The church’s crypt, which had been temporarily closed in February 2019 due to vandalism, had reopened following the recovery of the stolen items.

Significance of St Michan’s church

St Michan’s Church, an Anglican church and the only one on the north side of River Liffey for many centuries, remains a popular tourist destination despite its history of vandalism. The crypt houses mummified remains dating back 800 years, including “The Crusader,” believed to be a soldier returning from the Crusades.

The mummy is displayed without a lid on his coffin, providing a unique glimpse into the past. Other notable remains include a 400-year-old nun, a body with severed feet and right hand, and the Sheares brothers, Henry and John, who participated in the 1798 rebellion.

The church’s historical significance extends beyond its architectural beauty, as it offers valuable insights into Dublin’s rich history through its naturally preserved mummies. The limestone walls in the vaults maintain dry air conditions, ideal for preservation. These remains are believed to have been preserved by Ireland’s damp climate, adding to their unique historical value.

Community’s Hope for Restoration

As the investigation into the fire progresses, the community eagerly awaits updates on the condition of the damaged remains and any potential restoration plans. Despite the devastating fire, there is hope that the damaged mummified remains can be conserved and restored, allowing future generations to appreciate this significant piece of Dublin’s history.

Archdeacon Pierpoint emphasized the tight security measures in place, including CCTV, and expressed gratitude for the efforts of the Gardaí and Fire Brigade. He mentioned that the crypt is currently a crime scene, but he had been granted access to see the damage. The mummies were found sitting in a foot of water, requiring a specific atmosphere for preservation, adding to the challenge of restoration.

St Michan’s Church continues to be used for religious services and tourist visits. Visitors are granted access to a captivating collection of historical figures in the form of the “big four” mummies: The Crusader, the Thief, the Nun, and the Unknown. These naturally preserved mummies provide valuable glimpses into Dublin’s rich history.

Despite the recent tragedy, St Michan’s Church remains a symbol of resilience and historical preservation in Dublin. The community continues to hold onto hope that the damaged remains can be restored, ensuring that this significant piece of Dublin’s history can be appreciated by future generations.

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