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St. Michan's Church and Crypt of Mummies

St. Michan's Church is best known for the mummies in its underground crypt. Located on the eponymous Church Street not far from the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery, this plain-looking medieval chapel does not stand out. Indeed, most Dubliners are unaware that St. Michan's is a tourist attraction. The structure is simple and drab, with a large 15th century battlement tower being the one impressive feature. Aside from the tower, the rest of the current structure dates from the 17th century. Historians believe this was a reconstruction of an earlier Viking church, erected by the Danes in 1095. St. Michan's church has a charming and unusual interior, which has been likened to a courthouse. 

The Composition of Handel's Messiah?

Another notable feature is a beautiful 18th century organ. It is claimed that George Frideric Handel composed his most famous work, The Messiah, on this organ.

  • However, records show that the original manuscript composition was completed a few months before Handel's arrival in Dublin, in December 1741
  • He continued to revise it and recomposed individual movements for several years afterwards.
  • Handel first performed The Messiah  in Dublin on 13 April 1742, on the stage of the Great Music Hall, Fishamble Street.

The Crypts of St. Michans

Do not visit St. Michan's without seeing the underground vaults -- they are well worth the small entrance fee. This spooky mummy museum was not created intentionally -- underground crypts like this exist beneath many churches in Ireland. In St. Michan's, however, the coffins have gradually eroded over time, revealing the corpses. The corpses on the other hand have been naturally mummified. Scientists  speculate that the limestone in the basement, or the presence of methane gas from the swampy soil below, may have been the agent that caused the erosion and / or mummification. Either way, the result is a mummy chamber that has been created both naturally and ethically -- no church would have exposed the bodies in its coffins deliberately. 

Meeting the Mummies

  • The corpses date from between 400 and 800 years ago.
  • The oldest, nicknamed "The Crusader" is a Norman man believed to have lived during the 13th century.
  • At six feet six inches, he was remarkably tall for that era, and would have stood more than a foot higher than most of his peers.
  • His arm pokes out of the casket and it has become a tradition to "shake hands with the Crusader". Most people just touch his hand lightly, lest they snap a finger off!
  • The vaults are believed to have been visited in the late 19th century by Dublin-born writer Bram Stoker. It perhaps served as inspiration for his most famous novel, Dracula.

Visitor Tips

  • St. Michan's church and its crypts are open to visitors on Saturdays throughout the year and on weekdays during the summer.
  • On Sundays and on other certain other religious holidays, however, the church is closed to visitors except regular churchgoers.
  • Access to the crypts is via a narrow stone staircase, so use appropriate footwear and take care descending.

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