Guanajuato III: Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barreras and the Museo de las Momias

Since we’d explored the back streets north of the main drag of Benito Juarez, after coffee on the Plazuela de San Fernando, we decided to wander the calles on the south side of the road next.

Making our way through the very narrow Calle de los Besos (Street of the Kisses), so called because two facing balconies are so close together one can reach out and kiss one’s neighbour,

we hiked up through winding paths to the Pipila Monument, dedicated to a local hero of the fight for Mexican Independence.

Up there, we found a small bar with a fantastic view out over the city in which we whiled away a bit of time watching the clouds float by.

Later that night we had dinner at the Trattoria Italian restaurant upstairs at the Jardin de la Union and watched the action in the streets from our second floor blacony.

See more pics here.

Below is another example of the rather frenzied iconography in the churches here; in this example Jesus looks a bit like one of the undead in a vampire movie.

Today, Sunday, we decided to visit the Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera in the Guanajuato suburb of Marfil.

This hacienda, now a museum, was built at the end of the 17th century; originally, it was the grand home of Captain Gabriel de Barrera, whose family was descended from the first Conde de Rul of the famous La Valenciana mine in Guanajuato.

Opened as a museum in 1979, the hacienda, with its opulent period European furnishings, provides an insight into the lives of the wealthy of the time. Because the massive stone walls keep the heat at bay, the interior rooms are cool and dim on a hot day, the sunlight filtered through heavy ornate curtains.

The large, shady grounds, originally devoted to processing ore from La Valenciana, were converted in 1945 to 17 acres of beautiful terraced gardens based on international designs, with pavilions, pools, fountains, great stone and ceramic urns, enormous stone walls, and footpaths.

Unfortunately, at the moment Guanajuato has water problems and the fountains are not running – too bad because they would be beautiful. As well as dry fountains, the gardens have several pools, one of which, a tiled swimming pool, is very deep; none of these has water, either.

The grounds outside the wall are very brown and dry, giving a glimpe of what these gardens would look like if they had to turn off all the water. Nothing would survive very long, methinks, except possibly the cacti.

After a few hours wandering through the hacienda, we managed to flag down a passing taxi which took us back up to the Museo de las Momias, very near our place. Since we were there anyway, we decided to take in the famous mummy exhibit (not for the faint of heart or those bothered by images of the dead).

Some of the bodies that have become the mummies of Guanajuato were buried in 1833 as a result of a cholera epidemic. Many of these bodies were buried immediately to control the spread of the disease; in some cases, the dying were buried alive by accident. As a result, some of the mummies have horrific expressions attesting to their death in the tombs.

One of the mummies who is thought to have been buried alive was Ignacia Aguilar (above left). She suffered from a strange sickness that made her heart appear to stop for one day on several occasions. During one of these incidents, her heart appeared to stop for more than the usual time. Thinking she had died, her relatives decided to bury her. When her body was disinterred, it was noticed that she was facing down, biting her arm, and that there was a lot of blood in her mouth (source: Wikipedia).

Mexican law required families either to pay for or rent burial space in the cemetery; if these rents went unpaid for three years, the bodies were disinterred to make room for more recent dead. Of the many bodies disinterred, only two percent were mummified; no one knows why, but one possibility is the dry climate combined with the chemicals in the soil. In 1865 the first mummified body in the Cemetery of Santa Paula Pantheon was exhumed, that of Doctor Remigio Leroy. He was gradually joined by around 118 others who now reside in the Museo de las Momias, one of Guanajuato’s primary tourist attractions. This museum also has the smallest mummy in the world, a six month old fetus from a pregnant woman who fell victim to cholera.

Some of the mummies can be seen still wearing parts of their clothing; it’s very strange to see a mummy wearing only socks and/or shoes. Mummies of varying ages are here, from infants to the elderly. A special display contains the bodies of the very young dressed as “angelitos”, tiny angels.

Apparently, according to the Museum’s Director, “in rural Mexico, now as in the past, infant Catholic girls who die are often dressed as little angels or “angelitas,” in lacy dresses and sometimes with angel wings, to represent their young souls’ freedom from sin and their presence with God.

Boys are dressed as little saints or “santitos,” the color of their clothing corresponding to the saint representing the month in which the boy died.  The dressed infants are displayed for a brief time and photographed alone or with their families as if they are still alive”.

Although this small museum can often be packed with tourists, on this day we had the place almost to ourselves, since most people were at Pope Benedict’s address in Cubilete – bonus! We also checked out the small additional display of “torture implements”; however, this was like a very poor carnival haunted house and not worth the extra pesos.

For more information about the mummies, click here.

See more pics here.

5 Replies to “Guanajuato III: Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barreras and the Museo de las Momias”

  1. Yes, the mummies are not something you see every day of the week! But they have been incorporated into Guanajuato’s culture and are apparently the city’s biggest draw for tourists.

  2. I visited Guanajuato about 15 years ago and absolutely loved it. Stunningly beautiful. Also visited Zacatecas on that trip, also a wonderful experience.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Bob! Yes, Guanajuato is a wonderful place – as you can see by my posts, we loved it there. Would love to go back soon!

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