Horrible Outrage on the Dead

After the sad news this week of the St Michan’s vaults break-in comes this story of vault robberies from 1836, its a pity these stories aren’t in the distant past where they belong. We had a memorable visit to St Michan’s vaults a few years ago. Hopefully, they will reopen and the skull of the 800-year-old crusader can be retrieved. You can check out our earlier post here.

Grave robbers illustration.PNG
Bodysnatchers in a church cemetery disturbed by the braying of an ass. 
Mezzotint, 1771. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC-BY

Horrible Outrage on the Dead ran the headline on the Freemans Journal in 1836.

We have to record one of the most revolting outrages whichever came within our knowledge. On the night of Thursday last, the vaults under the church of St Andrew’s in this city were broken open. The strong iron bars were forced, and the sacrilegious ruffians made their way to the coffins. They forced them open and dragged the teeth out of the corpses which were interred therein. An iron bar was left in the churchyard by the perpetrators of the diabolical deed. The body of a gentleman recently interred was dragged partly out of the coffin.

Fun fact, two churches called St Andrew’s existed, just a few streets apart in Dublin City in 1836.
St Andrews on St Andrews Street was Church of Ireland, construction started in 1793 and it opened in 1807. While the second St Andrews was a newly built Roman Catholic church on Westland Row, which is still in use today. It is situated next to the Pearse Street Dart station. Construction started in 1832, it opened for public worship in 1834 but was not completed until 1837. Which makes it more likely that the St Andrew’s Church referred to in the newspaper is the one on St Andrews Street which is located at the junction of St Andrews/Suffolk Street and is now in use as the Dublin Tourism Office.

St Andrew’s Church on St Andrew Street now a Tourist Office – Credit By WolfgangSailer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9838072
St Andrew’s Church on Westland Row – Credit By Antony-22 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69612431

Meanwhile on the same night not too far away:

A similar Outrage at St Mark’s – On the same night, the vaults at St Mark’s church were broken into. The teeth of the bodies buried there were taken away. Also, the coffin of an unfortunate lady, who lately died in child-bed, was so broken by the miscreants, that it was necessary to procure a new one. Her infant also died and was buried in the same coffin with her. When the remains of the mother were being moved into the new coffin, the body of the infant was missed, and it is supposed that the villains carried it away. We understand that the church-wardens intend to offer a reward for the detection of the wretches who have perpetrated these revolting outrages. If the matter was represented to the Lord Lieutenant, we are certain that he would offer reward, in order that the heartless monsters who could force open the abodes of the dead, and steal their teeth for a few shillings, may be discovered, and brought to that exemplary punishment which their inhuman and disgusting crime deserves.

St Mark’s Church was built in 1729 on Great Brunswick Street now Pearse Street in Dublin 2.

St Mark’s Church on Pearse Street – Credit By DubhEire – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9833095

Of course, if it was the same grave robbers in action that night, then St Mark’s on Great Brunswick Street and St Andrew’s around the corner on Westland Row, then they could have made short work of both vaults.

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