THE desecration of a crypt at St Michan's Church in Dublin was "a planned crime" and not just "mindless vandalism", investigating Gardaí have said.
Last weekend, tomb raiders decapitated and subsequently stole the head of 'The Crusader' – 800-year-old mummified remains believed to be those of a man who fought in the Crusades during the Medieval Era.
The head remains missing and there are fears it will begin to deteriorate in the open air as micro-climatic conditions in the crypt had kept it preserved.
Two other mummies – including the body of a 400-year-old nun – were also "desecrated" and the burial chamber itself was "badly damaged", the Church of Ireland said.
A guide discovered the vandalism while preparing to open the church to visitors on Monday afternoon, before calling Gardaí.
Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy said detectives were treating the incident as a premeditated crime rather than just spontaneous vandalism.
"This was an outrageous act... there is no sense nor meaning to what has taken place," he told RTÉ News, adding that damage to the crypt itself was "considerable".
The Church of Ireland's Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said "the damage is barbaric" and that "the disturbance and desecration of the mummies is not a pretty sight to see."
Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, added that the incident was "an offence to the city" and "horrible vandalism of a peculiar kind."
St Michan's Church – founded in 1095 – is a popular tourist attraction in the Irish capital and its vaults receive just under 30,000 visitors a year.
Its crypt – which according to local lore inspired Bram Stoker to write 'Dracula' – was previously vandalised back in 1996.
On that occasion, a group of teenagers broke into the vaults and "played football" with heads from several bodies including the remains of a child.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Bridewell Garda Station on 01 666 8200, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda station.