Mummies of Guanajuato
Guanajuato City is home to the incredible Museo de las Momias (“Mummy Museum”). The Guanajuato mummies are a number of naturally mummified human bodies buried during a cholera outbreak in Guanajuato in 1833.
The human bodies were apparently discovered between 1870 and 1958.
At this time, a local tax was in force, requiring payment of a fee for “eternal” burial. Some human bodies, for which the tax had not been paid, were removed from the ground, and some were stored in a nearby building.
The dry and arid climate in certain parts of the Guanajuato region creates conditions that can lead to natural mummification, although scientific research later showed that some bodies were at least partially embalmed.
By the 1900s, the mummies in Guanajuato started to draw the attention of tourists.
Enterprising local cemetery workers capitalized on this strange interest by charging curious visitors a small fee, often a few pesos, for entry into the building where the mummified human remains and bones were stored.
This practice marked the beginning of the area’s transformation and turned into a museum in 1969. It was called the Museum of the Mummies. The exhibition featured 59 mummies out of its total collection of 111.
Mummies began being exhumed from Guanajuato cemeteries in 1870 when a local law was passed requiring families to pay a special “burial tax” to ensure the eternal burial of a loved one.
If the tax was not paid, the body was removed. Naturally mummified, it was kept in an above-ground building, and in the late 1800s people began paying to view the bodies. The “funeral tax law” was repealed in 1958.
Due to the demands of the cholera epidemic in 1829–1851, some additional cemeteries had to be opened in San Cayetano and Cañada de Marfil. Many bodies were immediately buried to stop the spread of the disease.
It is believed that in some cases the dying person may have been buried alive by accident, resulting in a horrifying expression. However, perceived facial expressions are most often the result of postmortem processes.
One of the mummies buried alive was Ignacia Aguilar.
Ignacia Aguilar suffered from a strange illness that caused her heart to stop several times. During one such incident, her heart stopped for more than a day. Thinking that she had died, her relatives decided to bury her.
When her body was discovered, she was seen lying face down, biting her hand.
The first mummy to be put on display in 1865 was the body of Dr Remigio Leroy.
The museum contains more than 100 corpses. At the exhibition, there are many mummies of different sizes. The museum houses the world’s smallest mummy – the fetus of a pregnant woman, a victim of cholera.
Some mummies have preserved parts of the clothing in which they were buried.
The cemetery contains both underground and above-ground burials.
Contrary to popular belief, the mummies in the museum were not taken from underground graves but were removed from above-ground crypts. Bodies are exhumed when descendants stop paying for maintenance.
The Mummy Museum is located on a hill overlooking the town. On the road leading there is a tree full of bats. The parking lot is filled with vendors selling everything, including candies rolled into the shape of mummies.
The first part of the museum is a sort of haunted house, with audio recordings, mummies, and skeletons. On the other side of the building, the exhibits are housed in long glass and wooden boxes resembling coffins.
The expression of agony on the faces of mummies is horrifying, it’s easy to imagine that a person was buried alive. But in death, muscles pull and twist the body and face, and it is very difficult to keep the lips together.
Natural gases also change the shape of the corpse once rigor mortis has passed.
The oldest mummy, a French doctor, is 200 years old.
The museum features babies, children, and adults. One mummy is a woman who died in childbirth, her mummified fetus, was removed and put on display. Another woman accused of witchcraft is still considered a witch.
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