As I left behind the myriad graves and descended the stone steps into the burial vault the sounds of the city disappeared.  I was transported to a place where time stood still.  The agelessness of this place was all around me.  The smell in this narrow passage made of limestone bordered on sickening.  However, it was the methane that seeped up from the ground that made this incredible site possible.  Due to the natural limestone, stream of methane, and constant year round temperature in this crypt I was about to see one of the most bizarre sights in the city:  The Mummies of Saint Michan’s.

Along the sides of the corridor were gated entrances that stood no higher than five feet.  Inside, where the vaults opened up, were stacks of coffins.  Some of them stacked so high, and for so long, that the ones near the bottom were broken by the pressure.  Each vault was owned by a family who buried generations of their kin here.  Some of the earlier progeny had the unfortunate luck of now being partially exposed to the thousands of visitors who come to the underground burial chambers each year.  Though the rooms were not lit, due to them remaining “active” in the case that members of the lineage wish to be buried here, I saw enough to make the visit worthwhile.

It wasn’t until I reached the final chamber, which was lit, that I realized how awesomely macabre this visit was going to be.  In front of me lay four completely mummified bodies.  Notice that I said “completely mummified” bodies and not “complete, mummified” bodies.  The devil is in the details here.  In the center of the room was a thick, wood coffin covered in dust.  Inside the coffin, with an outstretched arm, were the mummified remains of an unknown man.  There are many theories as to what kind of a man he was.  One of the most popular hypotheses is that he was reformed thief who went on to become a priest at Saint Michan’s.  They believe he was reformed because only members of the church were ever allowed to be buried here.  “Why a thief?” you ask.  Oh, did I forget to mention that his outstretched arm was sans hand.  Yes, the man had his hand chopped off, which was a common punishment for thievery.  As for the missing feet…  Did I forget to mention that, too?  Both his feet had been lopped off.  It is believed that the poor guy was just too tall for his coffin so they did what any good mortician of the time would do- make him shorter.

While this gruesome centerpiece was more intriguing than the complete, mummified bodies who lay at both sides of him he was not the treasure of the tomb.  As I stared through the gate at these bags of bones my guide drew my attention to the rear of the room.  There, in another dilapidated coffin, lie the man most often referred to as “The Crusader.”  He acquired his nickname because he was buried in the traditional style of Crusaders: with his legs crossed, to form the shape of a crucifix.  However, this man was not a traditional man of his times in one respect.  He measured in at 6’6″ tall.  Even by today’s standards those are hulking proportions.  Remember how our problem-solving mortician fixed up our friend who was a few inches too tall for his coffin?  Well, The Crusader’s mortician had a better idea.  Rather than just chop of a few inches, to be lost to decomposition, he rearranged his lower half.  The enlightened embalmer cut off both legs near the knee and then placed the loose limbs beneath the rest of the body.  “How do I know this?” you might wonder.  After all, I did say the body was butted up against the back of the vault and inside a coffin, right?  It seems that there is a local legend that says rubbing the pointer finger of The Crusader brings good luck.  Well friends, I cut a deal with my guide.  In exchange for fifteen percent of my lottery winnings he removed the gate and allowed me to enter the vault and rub the finger of this preserved Crusader.

After standing among the dry, dusty corpses for what seemed like an eternity, though I am sure if they could speak they would tell me I am being melodramatic, I carefully ducked beneath the opening and back into the limestone corridor.  After the short walk back up the stone steps I popped out into the cemetery behind Saint Michan’s and heard the sounds of the city once again.  This was only the first of the vaults I had a chance to explore beneath the church today but nothing I saw compared to this.  Realistically, how could it?  It’s like the comment that nearly everyone who signed the visitor’s book at the vault said:  “This is the most incredible thing I have seen since I’ve been in Dublin!”  Until we adventure again…