View Full Version : St Michin's Church (Ireland)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 01:54 AM
''This ancient church dates back to the time of the vikings in ireland, and was built in 1095 in the old viking settlement of oxmantown on the north side of the river liffey.

St. Michan himself, after who the church is named, is thought to have been a dublin norseman, although the records in christchurch cathedral simply describe him as an ‘irish saint and confessor’.
after the normans settled in ireland, many of the old vikings moved to this part of the city, although it’s not clear whether the move from their more established settlements on the south side of the river was voluntary, or if they were forced out by the conquering normans.

One of the oldest busts in the church is thought to be off bishop Samuel o’Haingli, who died in 1121, and who is claimed to be the founder of the original church.
He broke ranks with the see of christchurch, and set himself up as the unofficial ‘archbishop’ of dublin, for which he was severely reprimanded by anslem, the then archbishop of canterbury. the church, in fact, wasn’t even recognised as an official archdiocese until 1152.
from 1095 up until the mid-17th century, st. michan’s had the distinction of being the only church in dublin on the north side of the river liffey.

The present church dates back to 1685, when it was practically rebuilt, and the tall grey tower added at that time has long been a well known landmark in north dublin.
it is built from dublin calp (a local limestone) and from rubble.
the interior of the church is even more modern, and dates from 1828, when it was also re-roofed.

It is famous for two items in particular.
the first is its magnificent church organ in its gallery. this dates back to 1725, and parish records show that the totally enormous cost (for that time) of £467-7s-10d was raised by the parishioners themselves.
its claim to fame is that it was used by the famous composer and musician Handel when he came to Dublin in 1741-42 for the first ever performance of the ‘Messiah’.

Now we come to St. Michan’s main attraction, which lies not in the church itself, but in the underground vaults, accessed by a narrow stone stairway.
The St. Michan’s ‘mummies’.
There are coffins set into niches in the walls of a long, narrow tunnel, some of which are open, and others that can only be viewed through sets of iron bars.
Many of the coffins are not sealed revealing their grisly contents.
In one of the many burial chambers lies what many visitors come to St. Michan’s to see. Four remarkably preserved bodies humorously nicknamed by the Dublin people as ‘The Big Four’.
The coffins are all open here, fully revealing the bodies within, which are covered from head to foot with a thick dust, and with tight, leather-like skin stretched tautly over their features.
One of the coffins contains the remains of a man with one of his hands and both feet amputated. Some researchers maintain that he suffered this fate because he was a thief; others say it was simply because the coffin was too small for his torso, and the feet were cut off to make the body fit!
There is the mummified corpse of a woman on his right, and on the left the mortal remains of a nun.
Perhaps the most ‘famous’ of the corpses is at the rear. It’s the body of a man who has been cut totally in half in order to fit him into his coffin. For many years, it was maintained that this was the body of a Crusader, but recent research seems to discount this claim, as the vaults only date back to around the 17th century.
Some people have objected in fairly strong terms to bodies of the dead being displayed to the public in this fashion, but as the Church is urgently in need of further funds to help finance an extensive renovation programme, they are liable to remain on view for some time yet.

The last room also contains some corpses of interest.
These are of the Sheare brothers, who were put to death by the then ruling British after they took part in the Fenian rising of 1798.
Their coffins were opened during the celebrations to commemorate the Rising in 1998, in order to replace them with new ones, and only then was it discovered that the brothers had suffered the then common punishment that Britain imposed at that time for treason; they had been hung, drawn and quartered.

What is remarkable about the ‘mummies’ is that the bodies have remained in such good condition for such a long period of time.
For a time it was put down to the very high concentration of lime in the area, but this is the case in many other parts of Dublin also, and in no other church vaults in the city has this phenomenon occurred.
It is now thought that the very dry atmosphere may have played a part, as well as the fact that vaults in St. Michan’s Church lie below the bottom level of the Liffey River, thus making them drier.

The graveyard of the church contains the graves of some other notable Irishmen.
Oliver Bond, who also took part in the 1798 Rising is interred here, as is the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton.
It is also believed that the body of Robert Emmet, executed by the British during the 1803 Rising, is also buried somewhere in the church grounds. ''



''St. Michin's church is one of those places in Dublin that is usually by-passed by the average tourist. Indeed, not many Dubliners even know about it. A church has been on the site since the 12th century and, situated on the north side of the river Liffey, was outside the city walls. Its fame, such as it is, lies in its vaults. The air and atmosphere is such that a natural form of mummificatin takes place and the church displays three bodies that have been subject to this process: a suspected thief, a crusader, and a nun. Up to a couple of years ago it was possible to touch the hand of of one of the mummies, but this practise has now ceased. (Ask them nicely, though, and see what happens. Who knows?) The church also contains the remains of some of the leaders of the United Irishmen, the main organisation behind the 1798 rebellion, such as Oliver Bond and the Sheres brothers. St. Michin's church is just across the river from the Brazen Head, reputed to be the oldest pub in Dublin, and the meeting place for many of the 1798 plotters, as well as Robert Emmet (leader of the 1803 skirmish) and Daniel O'Connell, 'the liberator', whose statue marks the beginning of the capital's main street. All in all, it is in a tiny circle of Dublin what bursts with history and is all too often forgotten in the dash towards Trinity college and the Book of Kells (which, in typical irish fashion, is not from Kells). Check it out. It is well worth it.''

In all my years living here, I've never been to this Church. Probably because i'm Catholic ;)
Now it appears I'll be visiting soon - not so much the church as the dead bodies. Apparently you can shake hands with the dead crusader, or you could in the past, so I'll see how that goes!
This is all a Dublin tradition - or so family, probably with ulterior motives, keep telling me ;)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 03:22 PM
We have a place like that just south of the border in Mexico. This village has large numbers of its dead preserved as mummies and they are on display for the paying tourist. It seems the hot desert air did the trick. Most of the dead are from the 1880's and 1890's and are wearing their "Sunday best"; it was the clothing I found most fascinating. I did not visit this place but saw photos of them from a book; as for how it came to be I do not know but probably simply happenstance as in that Dublin church you describe.

Provided they let you, you'll have to let us know Scathach how that handshake goes. They say you can tell a lot from the firmness of a man's handshake, even a dead man's. :-O ;)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 07:17 PM
Apparently they came to be so well preserved from the extreme dryness of the air (or almost lack thereof) beneath the Church.
I've heard that flowers placed upon the coffins of the Sheare brothers are still preserved today which is amazing!

I'll let you know how seeing them goes ;)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 07:28 PM
I've heard that flowers placed upon the coffins of the Sheare brothers are still preserved today which is amazing!That is amazing.

I'll let you know how seeing them goes ;)
We shall all await your report with baited breath!;)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 08:12 PM
If I return....... :D

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003, 08:27 PM
If I return....... :DLOL ;)