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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# crypt raid
'The Crusader' was never intended to be a mummy ... and he may not even have been a crusader
As the church tour guide explains, not much is known about the life of the figure known as ‘The Crusader’.

CHURCH LEADERS AND community members expressed their shock this week when it emerged that the head of an 800-year-old mummy known as The Crusader had been stolen by an intruder at the crypt of a Dublin church last weekend. 

Other mummified remains were also damaged in the break-in at St Michan’s, coffins were broken, and gardaí later said that they were examining graffiti left during the incident as they launched an investigation into what they believe was a crime planned in advance. 

The existence of The Crusader’s remains in the vaults has been known about for around 200 years – but, according to the church’s tour guide Peter Condell – aside from the name he’s known by and the age of his remains, we don’t have many facts at all about who he was when he was alive. 

It’s not even known if he was actually a crusader. 

As Condell explained, knowledge about the vaults and the remains preserved there has been passed down between guides at the church through the generations and “how much of it is accurate is debatable”.  

The basic premise is that he’s of the right era and he has been buried with his legs crossed, which apparently is a traditional sign of crusadership. But other than that it’s all very vague.  

It’s believed The Crusader, as he’s now known, may have participated in the Fourth Crusade, which began in 1202 and lasted until 1204. 

His remains were unearthed, and the mummification discovered, around 200 years ago. 

Said Condell:

I suspect the revelation was a complete accident in as much as coffins that had been stacked one on top of each other eventually gave way with the cumulative weight, and they just fell over, and when the lids came off them or they burst open or whatever the scenario was at the time it was discovered that the remains had been preserved.

The Crusader would not have been buried with the intention of preserving his remains, the guide explained. The constant dry atmosphere has caused the mummification of the bodies, and the preservation of the coffins.

Until that point I don’t think anyone realised that they were the qualities in the crypt. The people who were buried here subsequently weren’t buried with the intention of being preserved, that was just accidental.

342 Leah Farrell / The Church of Ireland and Catholic Archbishops of Dublin, Michael Jackson (right) and Diarmuid Martin pictured after inspecting the damage on Wednesday. Leah Farrell / /

The vaults at the Dublin 7 church are currently closed as the investigation continues, but last year around 28,000 visited the crypt to view the remains. 

The underground chambers have been open to visitors for “well over 100 years and probably closer to 200 years,” Condell said. 

He said he believed the presence of the mummified remains would have been made public more-or-less immediately. 

I suspect, and this again is all conjecture, I suspect that at the time if you’ve discovered yourself in charge of a phenomena like this and you don’t make it public the rumour would be more fantastic than the reality and you’d have all sorts of people breaking in to confirm or otherwise what was there and the rumours would be exaggerated.

It was likely that church authorities at the time would have made a decision to make it public so they could control access to the crypt. / YouTube

St Michan’s, on Church Street near the Four Courts in Dublin 7, was originally founded in 1095 but the present church dates from 1685 and was renovated just under two centuries ago.

The damage to the vaults was discovered at lunchtime on Monday. 

Speaking earlier this week Garda Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy made a direct appeal to whoever had taken the head to make contact, warning that it would have started to deteriorate immediately upon being removed from the crypt’s microclimate.

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