Mummies of Guanajuato

The mummies (momias) of Guanajuato

Over Easter weekend, the family I live with let me come along on a trip to Guanajuato. I don’t think anyone else in the family was interested, but I wanted to see the mummies and they humored me. Nice folks!

But before you think Egyptian mummies, these folks were not prepared for becoming mummies. There’s no linen wrapped bodies or pyramids. Most weren’t even embalmed. These folks, or the people who prepared their bodies, certainly didn’t expect the bodies to be put on display. No, these corpses are only about 150 years old (or less) and come from a nearby cemetery. They weren’t buried in the ground (with one exception), but entombed and simply dried out. The air is quite dry here, the soil alkaline and the tombs isolated the bodies from the elements and many organisms,. Unfortunately, their tombs had been rented, not purchased, so when the families couldn’t pay, or couldn’t be found, they were put here, in Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato.

By US standards, this is pretty gruesome, but Mexicans have a different, more familiar and accepting view of death. Somehow, I feel slightly guilty about my visit, though. Can you say voyeur?

This woman died in childbirth and the fetus was nearby.

According to Wikipedia: “The first mummy was put on display in 1865. It was the body of Dr. Remigio Leroy. The museum, containing at least 108 corpses, is located above the spot where the mummies were first discovered. Numerous mummies can be seen throughout the exhibition, of varying sizes. The museum is known to have the smallest mummy in the world, a fetus from a pregnant woman who fell victim to cholera. Some of the mummies can be seen wearing parts of the clothing in which they were buried.”

This woman (?) had an almost clown face and quite a bit more hair that most.

More from Wikipedia: “The mummies are a notable part of Mexican popular culture, echoing the national holiday “The Day of the Dead” (El Dia de los Muertos). A B movie titled Santo vs. The Mummies of Guanajuato (1970) pitted the well-known Mexican professional wrestler Santo and several others against reanimated mummies.”

Don’t worry. This person wasn’t buried alive. The jaw naturally drops open like this after death. There is one mummy, however, on display that researchers believe was buried alive–her hands and body are out of place, not as would be placed after death. Since there was no embalming, bodies weren’t kept around long and entombed quickly. It was possible to declare someone dead when they were only in a deep coma. Can you imagine anything worse?
According to Wikipedia: “It is thought that in some cases, the dying may have been buried alive by accident, resulting horrific facial expressions. however, perceived facial expressions are most often the result of postmortem processes. One of the mummies who was buried alive was Ignacia Aguilar. She suffered from a strange sickness that made her heart appear to stop on several occasions. During one of these incidents, her heart appeared to stop for more than a day. Thinking she had died, her relatives decided to bury her. When her body was disinterred, it was noticed that she was facing down, biting her arm, and that there was a lot of blood in her mouth.”

“Author Ray Bradbury visited the catacombs of Guanajuato with his friend Grant Beach and wrote the short story “The Next in Line” about his experience. In the introduction to The Stories of Ray Bradbury he wrote the following about this story: ‘The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’ One of the few times that an experience yielded results almost on the spot.‘”

While most bodies were without clothing, the shoes were usually left on. I suppose the feet are quite fragile and this was easier.

“To conjure a morbid and eerie atmospheric opening sequence to his film Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), German director Werner Herzog used footage he had taken of several of the mummies.”

Infant mortality was quite high. Lots of hair on this little guy, so he probably wasn’t a newborn.
This woman drowned. Another was listed as a stabbing victim.
There was surprisingly little information with each corpse–only a handful have a name or date attached. While the mummies are interesting, I would have liked to know more about the people they had been.
OMG. I fear this is what happens when fat women dehydrate. I may never eat again.
Honestly, they could have kept a few pieces of clothing on the bodies. The private parts are almost non-existent in most cases. It’s harder than you think to tell male from female. And I didn’t really want to look THAT closely. But I really never thought about how much pubic hair would remain. It will take me weeks to get that picture out of my head.
The infants were often dressed up as angels or saints.
Above the babies were photos of seated mothers holding their (clearly) dead infants, often with older, much more lively siblings standing nearby. Photos of the death were common in the mid-1800’s and since the time exposure was long, they made excellent subjects.
If you’ve lost a child at birth, this is not a good place for you to visit, I suggest.

There is glass between you and the mummies, but I’m told this is a recent addition.
This infant is dressed as a saint. It’s a way to dedicating the soul of the child to the care of a particular saint.
The fat make poor mummies. Cremation sounds better all the time.
One of the few with her coffin.

One of the few fully clothed, in a nightgown.
There’s surprisingly little written info, though it is in both Spanish and English. There’s a short introduction video, which looks quite interesting and informative, but my Spanish just isn’t good enough to understand more than a few words in most sentences. I really thought I’d be better by now.

Finally, a man in a suit!

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I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

3 thoughts on “Mummies of Guanajuato”

  1. This is fascinating!!! I can’t get over how relatively new these mummies are and that they actually have information about some of them. I’m alternately captivated by the preservation of the bodies and wanting to study them for hours and dismayed that the living beings they once were are subjected to being ogled by tourists without their consent. But they’re absolutely stunning!! You have just added something to my tourist “must see” list. Thanks!

  2. Yeah, no mummification for me, thanks. Cool pics, though. Certainly a unique experience! I remember the Ray Bradbury story. I read everything he ever wrote when I was in junior high. Thanks for a cool post!

  3. Wow! That’s pretty crazy/amazing. I never realised the extent of the problems that weight gain would cause! Mummyhood is definitely right out. 🙂

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