Death on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

In CULTURE by Janice and George9 Comments

Guanajuato Mummy Museum - human mummy

The smallest mummy in the world is an almost perfectly-preserved six-month old fetus. It’s on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, one of the UNESCO-listed Mexican colonial towns we recently visited.

Built next to a cemetery, the famous (and macabre) museum has more than 100 mummies – the largest collection in the western hemisphere.

Many mummies are still wearing their shoes and tattered remnants of clothing.

Unlike the Egyptian mummies at the British Museum, though, these mummies are not thousands of years old.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Mother and child mummies

Mummies at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

More than 100 mummies are on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Gravediggers exhumed the first mummified body in 1865. More bodies were soon disinterred.

The story goes that a new law required families to pay a burial tax to keep their loved ones buried forever. If they couldn’t pay, authorities dug up the corpses, mummified naturally by the soil’s minerals.

By the late 1880s, the curious started coming to see the mummies, sometimes even breaking off pieces as souvenirs.

Today the mummies, their skin looking like parchment paper, are displayed behind glass cases.

Particularly striking is the mummy of a woman who experts say was buried alive after being wrongly pronounced dead from cholera. One arm covers her face, her open mouth drawn back in what looks like a horrified scream.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum - mummy in a coffin

A mummy in a coffin at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

A female mummy - what her story is, we don't know...

A female mummy – what her story is, we don’t know…

There’s also a poignant gallery of baby mummies, some dressed in booties, lace gowns and bonnets. Many people believed the souls of these “little angels” would rise to heaven immediately after they died.

More grisly is the museum’s “chamber of death.”

An open coffin contains a mummy with spikes piercing right through the body and skull – the plaque explains in Spanish that this was the unfortunate man’s punishment for offending the Catholic church.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum

A mummy in a coffin with spikes through the body – ugh!

This extraordinary mummy exhibit gives pause for reflection.

Who were these people? What were their stories?

In Guanajuato, we also visited the Diego Rivera Museum – lots of cool art! And not at all disturbing…

At the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (mummy museum), however, it was with some relief that we rejoined the land of the living outside in the sunshine.


All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase 


See our magazine article on the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

This post is based on our travel article on the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, just published in NUVO magazine’s summer, 2014 issue. See the online version of this print article.


Have you seen a mummy? How did it make you feel?


Comments

  1. I haven’t seen nearly enough of Mexico yet; another very interesting town here then. I’m weirdly fascinated with mummies, even the not-so-old ones.

  2. We visited this museum as well. I won’t say that we enjoyed it but it was interesting. It’s really unbelievable how perfectly preserved the mummies were. Both Kevin and I felt weird about the museum though and thought that it didn’t seem right to put these mummies on display like this, it seemed sort of disrespectful to the dead to be put on show like that. Having said that I am glad that we did visit but I wouldn’t do it again. You did a great job on the story along with the photos.

    Ruth

    1. Author

      It was a spontaneous, last-minute decision we made at the end of a full day of exploring to zip into this museum. We’re glad we did, but the experience did stir up lots of emotions. Sadness for the little children and babies who died too young. A morbid curiosity. Horror over the woman who apparently was buried alive. We actually weren’t going to visit this museum – we thought it would just be too “touristy” since it’s one of Guanajuato’s most famous and popular attractions (probably the most well-known).

  3. Yikes these are grisly, the kind of stuff that would really give me nightmares. I think I would pass on this place.

  4. Sometimes I feel as if we follow your path!
    Loved your post. Both the words and photos were like taking another trip to the Mummy Museum!

  5. And I thought the mummies at the Royal Ontario Museum were gruesome! The mummy with the spikes through the stomach is beyond spooky. I wonder if there has been any controversy from the families of the bodies on display or were they all bodies of unknown persons?

    1. Author

      The Mexicans have a different attitude toward death – more accepting (note how they celebrate the Day of the Dead, which is a really poignant celebration). Families even take their children to this museum for an outing. As far as we know, the museum hasn’t stirred up any controversy in Mexico.

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