In 2010 I took my mother on a visit to an unusual and macabre attraction in Dublin: the mummies of St Michan’s church. Located near Dublin’s Four Courts, St Michan’s church is Dublin’s oldest parish church north of the River Liffey. Founded in 1095 and named after a Danish Bishop and built on the site of an ancient oak grove, the present church dates from 1685. Until the 16th century monks from Christchurch Cathedral the church congregation and from 1547 it was part of Christchurch Cathedral parish. Restored in 1998, St. Michan’s now belongs to the Protestant Church of Ireland. The church retains many of its original features such as the galleried interior and organ. The organ dates from 1724 and is one of the oldest in Ireland that is still in use. It is claimed that Handel practised for the first performance of ‘Messiah’ on this very organ.
Beneath the church lay the vaults, which are the main attraction to the church. Here many of Dublin’s most influential families from the 17th-19th centuries were interred. The Shears brothers, who were executed by the British following the Rising of 1798 and a copy of the execution warrant is also on display in the crypt, where it instructs the condemned men to be hung, drawn and quartered. Also interred in the vault are the Earl’s of Leitrim who lay in highly decorated coffins. Many of the bodies deposited in the vault are in such an excellent state of preservation that their features are discernible and they bones and skin intact. The conditions for mummification are caused by a combination of the dry atmosphere of the vaults, methane gas emanating from the ground and the limestone walls which are resistant to moisture acting together to dry out the bodies. The most famous mummies in the vault are those of the alleged crusader, the thief and the nun. The crusader, mummy believed to have been a soldier returned from the Crusades, has had his legs broken and crossed, in order for it to fit the coffin. He lies with one of his hands is lifted slightly in the air and legend has it that those who touch his finger will have good fortune. The mummy known as the thief has had his feet cut off and his right forearm is missing, some say as punishment for his crime. Recent scientific and historical research however, has disputed the validity of the stories surrounding the crusader and the thief.
Our visit to the church was on a wet and dismal day in June. After looking around the church our tour guide and 6 other people entered the underground vaults through a metal door and clambered down some very wet steps. There was a passage in front of us and in the dim light, alcove areas could be seen which contained the ornate coffins of the well to do departed. The tour guide explained who the coffins belonged to, what the family names and crests were and then we moved on toward the end of the passage, where we saw the open coffins and the mummified bodies. Towards the end of the tour my mother wandered to the end of the passage where there was a part that had not been excavated. She told me that while she was peering into this area she became aware of voices around her, “a sort of whispering, murmuring noise” and felt it was rather oppressive in the passage. She said she began to sense that there were many people around her, pressing close, which was not the case. She remembers “I did not feel frightened, just aware of this whispering and I could not make out any words, but I felt as if I was in a press of people. There was no wind entering the passage the metal door had been firmly shut behind us and I could not account for the noises.”
It is interesting to note that there have been previous reports of strange whisperings and voices heard within the vaults, as well as reports of being touched by unseen hands. Could it be that the vaults contain the restless spirits of the dead, or is it more likely that visitors to the vaults experience movements and sounds caused by ‘infrasound’? Infrasound refers to extreme bass waves or vibrations with a frequency below the audibility range of the human ear. Although these waves cannot be heard by the human ear, they can be felt and have been shown to produce a range of effects in some people including anxiety, extreme sorrow, and chills. Perhaps this would account for my mother’s feeling of oppressiveness in the passageway, the feeling of being in a press of people and hearing ghostly whispers.
Haunted vaults or not, my mother is undeterred: “I very much enjoyed it. I would not mind going again, but I certainly would not want to be there on my own….”
Address: Church Street, Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Public transport: Bus: 134 from Abbey St.
Tours: Mon-Fri 10-12:45, 2-4:45, Sat 10-12:45
Students and Seniors €3.50
Family (2 Adults + 2 Children) €12.00
- Barrett, S. (n.d.). The Mummies of St. Michan’s. Ireland for Visitors. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from http://www.irelandforvisitors.com/articles/mummies_of_st_michans.htm
- Blather: Waking the Dead: The Mummies of Saint Michan’s Church, Dublin. (n.d.). Blather.net: The Only Really Nice Website Circulating on the Internet. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from http://www.blather.net/blather/2007/08/the_mummies_of_saint_michans.html
- Costanza, T. (n.d.). The Mummies of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin: Tour Includes Visit to Vaults in Ireland’s Capital | Suite101.com. Suite101.com: Online Magazine and Writers’ Network. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from http://suite101.com/article/the-mummies-of-st-michans-church-in-dublin-a112155
- Haunted: A Guide to Paranormal Ireland. (2006). Dublin: Poolbeg Press.
- St. Michan’s Church – Dublin, Ireland. (n.d.). Sacred Sites at Sacred Destinations – Explore sacred sites, religious sites, sacred places. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/dublin-st-michan-church
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