DUBLIN — A tip led the police in Dublin to a mummified head believed to belong to an 800-year-old Crusader knight, a week after it was stolen from a medieval church crypt in the city.
The body, known as the Crusader, was the oldest and most famous of several naturally mummified by the dry air and methane-rich soil in the crypt of St. Michan’s, an Anglican church on the north side of the city center. The church, parts of which date to 1095, receives around 28,000 paying visitors a year, many of whom come to see its mummies.
During a break-in over the weekend of Feb. 23 and 24, however, the Crusader was decapitated and the head was stolen. Other sections of the crypt were also desecrated and vandalized, with a nun’s mummified body badly damaged.
The archdeacon of St. Michan’s, the Rev. David Pierpoint, told Irish state radio that he had been shown the head, and another skull that was also recovered, in the local police station. They were both saturated with rainwater, he said, which could cause them to disintegrate after centuries in the unusually dry air of St. Michan’s limestone crypt.
They have now been given to the National Museum of Ireland to conserve and if possible restore. The aim is to eventually return the head to its place in the Crusader’s coffin, although it cannot be reattached.
The Irish police force said in a short statement on Tuesday that it had recovered the head and another skull that had not previously been reported missing “as a result of information that came into the possession” of officers at Bridewell station in central Dublin.
The Irish police would not offer any more official information about what its statement says is a continuing criminal investigation.
While the name of the Crusader is no longer recorded, the church has traditionally identified him as a veteran of 12th-century religious wars by the way in which he was buried, with his arms and legs crossed. He was also incredibly tall for the time, standing around 6 feet 6 inches tall, according to Mr. Pierpoint.
The Anglican archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, Michael Jackson, said the church was delighted that the remains had been left where the police could recover them.
“I should like to thank the Gardaí and everyone else who has worked tirelessly to make this possible,” he said, using the Irish word for the police force. “The National Museum of Ireland are now acting in an advisory capacity.”
“The emphasis will now be able to turn to consideration of future security and display of the remains in the crypt of St. Michan’s. Renewed thanks go to all who have shown interest and concern for the mummies. They are a priceless part of the heritage of the city of Dublin and its citizens.”