By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN – The tiny central Dublin parish of St Michan’s – the oldest church north of the Liffey – has been rescued from closure by desperate appeals for funds after it was damaged by vandals almost two years ago and there was a danger its doors would close for good.
President Mary McAleese was among the packed congregation when Church of Ireland Archbishop Walton Empey recently rededicated the 11th century church, whose ghoulish display of mummified corpses had attracted more than 20,000 tourists a year.
Visits to the famous chilly crypt, with its mummified bodies preserved by the moisture-absorbing properties of the yellow limestone used to build the church, have been a high point of school children’s historic tours of Dublin for generations.
Parts of the ancient St Michan’s Church, with its world famous leathery corpses of monks, merchants, patriots, a nun, a thief and a medieval crusader, had literally been falling down.
In July 1996, vandals desecrated and burned one of its famous vaults scattering skeletons from their resting places. Water used to put out the fire caused further problems to the delicate balance that had been maintained in the vault for centuries.
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Then the roof caved in. Problems with the roof had dated from 1922 when Michael Collin’s Free State forces laid down sustained artillery fire against Eamon de Valera’s anti-Treaty supporters in the nearby Four Courts.
The bombardment exploded an armory at the rear of the church and badly damaged the roof, according to the rector, Canon David Pierpoint.
Only a limited patching job was done at the time.
With fewer than 70 left in the congregation, the rector launched a major appeal for funds and undertook a 60-hour Easter fast to raise money in 1997.
Because St Michan’s is so famous and people were shocked by the vandalism, the appeal was a huge success.