WITH ITS steep hills, candy-coloured buildings and winding passageways, Guanajuato has a claim to be Mexico’s most beautiful city. Its main tourist
WITH ITS steep hills, candy-coloured buildings and winding passageways, Guanajuato has a claim to be Mexico’s most beautiful city. Its main tourist attraction may be the country’s most ghoulish. The Museum of Mummies, set underneath the city’s Santa Paula cemetery, contains 117 specimens. They are encased in glass, some standing, some recumbent, clothed and naked, their faces alive with agony. When local media reported in May that 22 mummies had gone missing, the city’s living residents grimaced.
The claim comes from Paloma Reyes Lacayo, who was the museum’s chief between 2015 and 2018. Mistrustful of its current managers, she requested an inventory. Some of the mummies did not appear on it. Locals suspected that someone in the city’s hierarchy had purloined its patrimony. Nonsense, says the city’s cultural director, Jesús Antonio Borja. The mummies are all present and accounted for.
They are the offspring of Guanajuato’s dry, hot climate and Mexico’s political history. After the country’s government separated church and state in the 1850s, towns created their own cemeteries. To defray the cost of Santa Paula cemetery the local government levied a burial tax on survivors, payable every five years. If the money did not come, the cemetery disinterred the remains. Not many years after its founding workers began to discover that Guanajuato’s arid heat had preserved…