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.
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.
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.
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.