Man charged over fire leading to destruction of ‘irreplaceable’ mummies at St Michan’s Church

Christian Topiter (38) appears in court after water damage is believed to have ruined five mummified remains

A garda at the scene after a fire in the crypt of St Michan's Church of Ireland in Dublin destroyed five mummies, including an 800-year-old known as The Crusader. Photograph: Leah Farrell/

A part-time security guard has been accused of criminal damage after water used to put out a fire destroyed “priceless” and “irreplaceable” ancient mummies in the crypt at St Michan’s Church in Dublin.

Christian Topiter (38) was held in prison custody on remand pending approval of a person to stand his bail and needs €4,000 lodged in court before he can be released.

The blaze happened at about 4pm on Tuesday, and water damage is believed to have ruined five mummified remains at the Church of Ireland building, including an 800-year-old artefact known as The Crusader and four others that are more than 400 years old.

A tour guide raised the alarm after noticing smoke in the vault of the building on Church Street.


The Dublin Fire Brigade extinguished the flames before they spread to the rest of the building and made the area safe. No injuries were reported.

Gardaí arrested Mr Topiter, who has used various addresses and had a Romanian travel card, and he was detained at a north Dublin station overnight.

Mr Topiter, formerly of Grand Canal House, Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin 6, was charged with causing criminal damage at St Michan’s Church to mummified remains, property of Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Dublin & Vicar of St Michan’s Church David Pierpoint.

He appeared before Judge Shalom Binchy at Dublin District Court on Wednesday.

Objecting to bail, Garda James Kenny told the court he was concerned the accused would commit more offences or interfere with witnesses. He said there was CCTV evidence and alleged the accused was arrested shortly afterwards wearing distinct clothing.

Judge Binchy heard that a witness told gardaí that there was a person “locked behind gates where this incident occurred, where he would have had to forcibly enter”.

The court heard that lately, Mr Topiter had been living 200 metres away in a hostel beside Merchant Quay.

The officer claimed the accused said in his Garda interview that he knew people in the church, but gardaí have been unable to establish a reason for the incident, “and a lack of motive gives gardaí grave concerns”.

Garda Kenny said historical artefacts of this nature are priceless and irreplaceable. The garda maintained that the offence was at the higher end of criminal damage offences, which could carry a maximum 10-year sentence.

He alleged Mr Topiter became aggressive in his interview and attempted to rip up his statement.

The court heard he had not provided identification documents and gardaí were not 100 per cent satisfied with his identity or that he had ties to this jurisdiction. Garda Kenny said no conditions would appease his concerns and he asked the court to refuse bail.

Defence solicitor John Shanley challenged the bail objections, saying that his client had “clear ties” to Ireland and was in a four-and-a-half-year relationship with his fiancee, who attended the hearing. He also argued that there was no evidence before the court that his client would interfere with witnesses. Mr Shanley said his client was in a stable relationship, worked as a security guard, received social welfare payments, and participated in a charity soup run.

The solicitor also stressed his client had no history of serious offences.

Judge Binchy noted the garda evidence but said the accused had a presumption in favour of bail, which she set in his bond of €10,000, of which €2,000 must be lodged. He must also have a €10,000 independent surety approved with a €2,000 lodgement.

Once bail has been taken up, he must stay away from St Michan’s Church, not contact witnesses, provide gardaí with his address, and surrender his identification or travel documents.

The accused, who stood silently throughout the hearing, has yet to enter a plea and was granted legal aid.

Judge Binchy remanded him in custody with consent to bail under the terms she outlined, to appear via video link at Cloverhill District Court next Tuesday.

The mummified remains in the crypt are believed to have been destroyed by the water that was required to put out the fire.

A team from the Garda Technical Bureau sealed off the scene for a forensic examination, and no tours can take place until further notice.