Tuesday’s fire at St Michan’s Church not the first time the Dublin site was vandalised

Archdeacon David Pierpoint says mummified bodies have been ‘destroyed’ and ‘damaged beyond repair’

The crypt at St Michan’s receives about 30,000 visitors every year. Photograph: Sam Boal/Collins Photos

This week’s fire at St Michan’s Church in Dublin which damaged a number of mummified remains is not the first instance of vandalism at the Church of Ireland site which dates from 1095.

A report in this newspaper 28 years ago told us that “vandals have desecrated one of Ireland’s most important historic and religious sites at St Michan’s Church in Dublin, smashing mummies which were hundreds of years old and plundering graves”.

On July 9th, 1996 it continued that “one of five vaults in the church crypt in Dublin’s north inner city has been completely destroyed after vandals set a fire in one of the chambers, using rags and paraffin. Firefighters called to the scene yesterday evening poured water on the smouldering coffins, unaware of the damage this could do. The vault, where about 80 remains were naturally preserved, will never open to the public again.” But it did.

That 1996 report said that “Canon David Pierpoint and the sexton, Mr David Teixeira, made frantic efforts to transfer some of the least damaged coffins to another crypt before the moisture began to affect them. Only six of the 80 mummies could be saved. The vault will now be closed and the bodies will be allowed to rot.” But that did not happen.


On Tuesday of this week it was reported that “a number of mummified remains have been destroyed or badly damaged following a fire at St Michan’s Church in Dublin”. The now Archdeacon David Pierpoint said the mummified bodies had been “destroyed” and “damaged beyond repair,” and that he would ask the National Museum to carry out an inspection of the crypt and the mummies.

Man charged over fire leading to destruction of ‘irreplaceable’ mummies at St Michan’s ChurchOpens in new window ]

He hoped the museum “might be able to take the mummified bodies away, and by doing that, then they may be able to salvage something. But we’re really pretty certain that they’ve been destroyed.”

The Archdeacon, who is Vicar at St Michan’s, said the fire itself had not caused that much damage. “Most of the damage was done by water, but I’m not blaming the fire brigade at all. That is their duty to put out a fire because if the fire had got hold, the whole church would be gone.”

He also said “our security system is very tight and thankfully we have CCTV in operation. The footage has been handed to the gardaí and the investigation is in their hands.” A man has since been charged in connection with the fire there last Tuesday.

Just five years ago, in 2019, Archdeacon Pierpoint also expressed confidence in the security system there. That followed another break-in, in February that year, when the mummified head of “the Crusader” and a nun’s skull were stolen.

They were recovered weeks later and Brian Bridgeman (then 36) was jailed in July that year for 28 months in connection with the incident. He told gardaí­ how he woke up in the crypt at St Michan’s and didn’t know where he was. “I thought I was dreaming, it wasn’t reality,” he said.

He didn’t remember damaging the coffins and skeletons as he was “out of [his] head” on alcohol and Xanax tablets.

After leaving the church, he fell asleep in the city and realised when he woke up that he had two skulls in his bag. He said he panicked then and wanted to bring them back but was afraid of being caught. A few weeks later he left the skulls in a bag in a hedgerow on the church grounds with a note stating “sorry RIP”.

Bridgeman was identified on CCTV in the area and later pleaded guilty to burglary of the vaults as well as five counts of criminal damage, including two of damaging a dead body.

Archdeacon Pierpoint said at the time: “we have particularly good security, we have CCTV cameras, double doors both outside and inside the crypts”.

He explained how the parish couldn’t afford 24-hour security on site. “We’ve done everything we can security-wise to keep it safe. It is our intention to open the crypt to visitors because we have inherited this great treasure, not just for the parish, for the city and the nation and we maintain it, so it is our intention to have this available for all future generations in whatever form it can be.”

A valuable source of income to the parish, the crypt at St Michan’s receives about 30,000 visitors every year, at €3.50 a head, and €3 for students.

St Michan’s was built in 1095 and rebuilt in 1686 while its large pipe organ was installed in 1724 and on which, it is claimed, Handel first played The Messiah. Remains there include the 400-year-old mummy of a nun, and the 800-year-old remains of a 6½ft man popularly known as “the Crusader”.

There too are the Sheares brother, Henry and John, executed for their role in the 1798 rebellion and, supposedly, the remains of Robert Emmet executed in 1803. Also believed to be there are the remains of celebrated mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and many Earls of Kenmare.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times