Shaking hands with Death

If somebody told me when I woke up this morning that I would be shaking hands with an 800 year old mummified crusader I wouldn’t have believed them. It wasn’t even on my radar of things to do while in Dublin.

I should probably back up and explain how this all came about in the first place. We were invited to St. Michan’s Church to take a tour of their crypts. Since the crypts are obviously a sacred space, we were only allowed to enter a few of the rooms.

The underground entryway was not built for any person even remotely ‘tall’. My 5 foot 3 inches has never been considered tall. I can’t even reach the flour on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets without hoisting myself onto the countertops or dragging a chair over. Today, even I towered above the stone archway that led down into the crypts.

The muscles in my knees ached and trembled as I took the first step down. Cobwebs dangled from the ceiling and dust coated the floor in thick layers. Skulls sat perched on the shattered remnants of wood coffins.

In the largest room there were four open coffins, three lined in a row and one in the back. The three bodies up front were approximately 400 years old and belonged to an anonymous woman, an alleged criminal, and a nun. Due to the natural production of methane gases in the crypts, the bodies remained accidentally preserved.

Postcard showing mummified bodies at St. Michan's Church in Dublin.

Postcard showing mummified bodies at St. Michan’s Church in Dublin.

The fourth tomb belonged to the 800 year old crusader. Our guide informed us that shaking his hands was considered by many to be good luck. There was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity. It’s not everyday you get to introduce yourself to a mummy.

His hands were leathery and tough. All I could think when my flesh made contact with his was, “Is this sanitary? When was the last time he could have possibly washed his hands?”

Erin Nilssen
Champlain Abroad Dublin, Spring 2015
Champlain College Graphic Design major, Professional Writing minor
Class of 2016

You can also follow Erin on her personal blog ‘The Paper Airplane’