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Origins of Mexico’s mysterious mummy museum and Day of the Dead connection

Dozens of mummies on display in museum in Guanajuato, Mexico

GUANAJUATO, Mexico – Throughout Mexico in the fall, you will see various calaveras, skeletons and bones. They are cultural symbols of the country’s iconic holiday, Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead.

But nowhere do you see the dead portrayed more distinctly than at the Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato.

The history of the museum dates to the early 1830s when a Cholera outbreak spread across the region and led to the deaths of many people.

(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)

The bodies of those who died from the disease were interred and placed in above-ground crypts to avoid further spread of the disease.

But around 1870, families were forced to pay a local burial tax. If they couldn’t pay, the bodies of their loved ones were removed from the crypts and stored in a building. (The tax was abolished in 1958.)

Due to Guanajuanto’s dry and hot climate, many of the bodies that were removed from crypts had naturally mummified.

The tombs of the mummies began to attract tourists and in 1969, the building where the mummies had been stored was turned into a museum called El Museo de las Momias.

The museum is now one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions with dozens of mummies on display.

While some visitors have found the mummy displays to be offensive, people in Guanajuato believe it is a part of the Mexican culture of not fearing death and say it’s a vital piece of the city’s history.

Below are images from the museum taken during KSAT’s visit to Guanajuato in February.

(Note: Some viewers may find these images to be disturbing.)

(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)
(Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico/KSAT)

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