Dead, but not Gone – “Las Momias” of Guanajuato


I see dead people.

I’m not the only one.  Its’s actually quite common where I live.  The dead people, las momias are one of the city’s most famous attractions.

The bodies were interred in above ground tombs in the local cemetery during a cholera outbreak in 1833.  A law was put in place requiring the family to pay a tax in order to keep their loved ones in the cemetery.  Most folks couldn’t or didn’t pay and 90% of the bodies were exhumed.  (This practice was abandoned in 1958, when a new law prohibited further disinterring.) To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered that some of the bodies had become mummified.

Guanajuato sits at high elevation, about 2,040 meters, and has extremely dry air with humidity usually hovering around 15%.  The city’s economy is based on mining and the soil has high mineral content.  These factors probably contributed to the bodies drying out before they decomposed, but no one really knows.  Thus, they are sometimes referred to as the “accidental mummies”.

They are interesting.  Some have clothes. Others only shoes.  On some you can see hair and even eyelashes.  There are “angelitos,” infants – including one which is labeled as the smallest mummy in the world.  One was only in its tomb for seven years.  The most horrific is the one who is thought, because of her posture, to have been buried alive.

Guanajuato Mummy. Photo by Dan..

Las momias have evolved into Guanajuato’s most famous residents.  Tourists flock to see them.  They’ve been in movies (Santo vs. the Mummies of Guanajuato – 1970; The Mummies of Guanajuato – 1972), and have been further immortalized by the likes of Ray Bradbury and Werner Herzog.  They even go on tour. (Yes, under the right circumstances, you could still be traveling after you die.)

I visited the Museo de las Momias  on my first trip to Mexico fifteen years ago.  When I moved to Guanajuato in 2006, I did not feel the need to see it again.  I mean after all, we’re talking about mummies.  They were dead when I saw them and I figured that they wouldn’t have changed much. But, I have now gone back a couple of times when hosting company who are curious see them.  While the mummies themselves haven’t changed over the years, the museum has.

The first mummy discovered was Doctor Remigio Leroy, whose body was disinterred in June of 1865.  Dr. Leroy’s mummy is standing there to greet you as you enter the museum.  He introduces himself to you on a small card, written in English and Spanish, in the first person (“Hi. I’m Dr. Leroy. I died in 1833…).  There are fewer of these supposed first person accounts in the museum than there used to be.  The mummies are now behind glass, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.  More effort is being made to protect them and the overall theme of the museum seems to be shifting from macabre to something more scientific.

However, if grisly, ghoulish and ghastly is your thing, fear not! For an extra 15 pesos you can see two additional mummies, torture devices and some cheesy, theatrical grave scenes.  Something for everyone.

Published in Culture and People, Mexico

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Meet the Author

Seasoned traveler, avid reader, over-eater, clumsy but determined hiker and wannabe Spanish-speaker.

Comments

  1. Tiffany

    Oh wow that is creeeeepyy! This will definitely be featured on our Freaky Friday post! When I was attempting to learn Spanish we would always learn about how most Mexican people would celebrate the dead and have quite the festivities..strange but I’d want people to celebrate me too 😉

    1. Jennifer Choban Post author

      When you’re sitting around with nothing to do, you can make a list of all the things that you want people to put on your Day of the Dead alter. (Mine would feature dark chocolate, micheladas, books, art…)

  2. Michael Jon Falk

    Creepy indeed! I was a little miffed when in Paris the underground Catacombs were closed and I didn’t get to see them. I remember having a uncomfortable nervous feeling on my way to them before discovering they were closed. Death creeps me out and seeing the mummified remains of ancient beings always hits you with the mortality dilemma in the stomach.

  3. Judy

    Wow, great description, Jenny, of something so weird… first time I went to Guanajuato they told me the mummies used to just hang loose from the ceiling and one time someone got smacked in the face by a mummy and had a heart attack and died! Guess they then decided that glass cases were important if they wanted to stay open and get the tourist dollars. There have been copycat mummies and some scandals about the travelling mummies, 26 of which were taken on tour to the U.S. and can’t seem to find their way back. Wow, undocumented mummies roaming the U.S… Check out the website, http://www.mummytombs.com and you’ll see they are supposedly in North Carolina right now. Hope they make it back home!!!

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