St Michan’s Church

North of the Liffey

Macabre remains are the main attraction at this church, which was founded by the Danes in 1095 and named after one of their saints. Among the ‘attractions’ is an 800-year-old Norman crusader who was so tall that his feet were lopped off so he could fit in a coffin. Visits are by guided tour only.

St Michan's was the Northside's only church until 1686, a year after it was almost completely rebuilt (it was remodelled in 1825 and again after the Civil War), leaving only the 15th-century battlement tower as its oldest bit. The courtroom-like interior hasn't changed much since the 19th century: still in place is the organ from 1724, which Handel may have played for the first-ever performance of his Messiah. The organ case is distinguished by the fine oak carving of 17 entwined musical instruments on its front. A skull on the floor on one side of the altar is said to represent Oliver Cromwell. On the opposite side is the Stool of Repentance, where ‘open and notoriously naughty livers’ did public penance.

The tours of the underground vaults are the real draw, however. The bodies within are aged between 400 and 800 years, and have been preserved by a combination of methane gas coming from rotting vegetation beneath the church, the magnesium limestone of the masonry (which absorbs moisture from the air) and the perfectly constant temperature. Although there are caskets strewn about the place, the main attractions are 'the big four' – mummified bodies labelled The Unknown (a female about whom nothing is known), The Thief (his hands and feet are missing; some say as punishment for his crimes), The Nun and The Crusader: if he is indeed 800 years old then he may have participated in the piratical free-for-all crusades of the 13th century that resulted in the sack of Constantinople but which weren't sanctioned by the church. Also in the crypt are the bodies of John and Henry Sheares, two brothers executed following the Rising of 1798 and – it is claimed – the remains of Robert Emmet, the fallen leader of the 1803 rebellion. Bram Stoker is said to have visited the crypt, which may have inspired him to write a story about a certain vampire who slept in a coffin…

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