The head of an 800-year-old mummy known as "The Crusader" has been lopped off and stolen from its crypt below St. Michan's Church in Dublin.
According to a statement issued by the Church of Ireland, vandals are believed to have broken into the church's underground vaults over the weekend, where they "desecrated" the bodies of several mummies interred there. St. Michan’s staff discovered the damage on Monday (Feb. 25) afternoon. [Photos: Medieval Skeletons Unearthed Near Saint's Tomb in England]
"I would appeal to those responsible to examine their consciences and return the head of The Crusader to its rightful place," the archbishop of Dublin said in the statement.
Irish police are investigating the incident.
St. Michan's Church dates to 1095, but the present church building was completed in 1685, according to the church's website. The crypts below St. Michan's hold many mummies, though their history is not fully known. According to the church, the bodies of the men and women entombed there slowly mummified over time thanks to the basement's naturally dry atmosphere, which is partially due to limestone bricks sucking moisture out of the air.
This dryness has also caused some of the mummies' caskets to disintegrate, exposing the corpses inside to public view. The Crusader and The Nun were among the crypt's most visible and most visited mummies. According to Atlas Obscura, church officials once encouraged visitors to shake The Crusader's outstretched hand (a practice that ended in 2017).
Historians believe The Crusader participated in the Fourth Crusade, which spanned from 1202 to 1204. Standing more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall, the mummy previously had to have its legs broken and folded up behind it just to fit in the coffin.
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Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.