Monday, August 26, 2013

Mummy, Are You There?

There's a new batch of mummy sightings. (And not just because The Mama is currently in residence...)

Take a look at the Mexican mummies of Guanajuato -- these were bodies that were originally buried at the local cemetary, but dug up and stored after their relatives either would not or could not pay the cemetary tax. Now the town's gathered enough for them to open a museum...and the mummies, more than a hundred of them, are on display.

I know what you're thinking. Weird, right?

Wait...there's more.

A couple dozen monks' bodies are on display throughout Japan -- monks who literally mummified themselves! These men ate only nuts and seeds for years, to thin and refine their bodies, then drank poisonous tea. That way their bodies were cleaned out of -ahem- extra solids, and any maggots in residence were killed. (Turns out that at least one of the local springs had a high level of arsenic in it, which should have helped along the process, as well.)
    Then they crawled into a stone tomb only big enough to be seated in the lotus position, equipped with an airtube and a bell. Every day they rang the bell...when it stopped ringing, the tomb was sealed up.

    Years later, their tombs were opened and the bodies examined. For those who'd still rotted, the tombs were sealed back up and forgotten. Think the last knight in the Indiana Jones epic:

The intact bodies were dressed, put on display and venerated as incarnations of Buddha...where they remain today.
    No, I am not making this up.

The Japanese don't have the monopoly on this sort of thing...witness the catacombs of the Capuchin Monastery in Palermo, Italy, where nearly 8,000 bodies are on display, sorted tidily by occupation (religious/non-religious), age and type (virgin/non-virgin, I guess). The oldest corpse is that of a friar who died in 1599.
     The area is unusually dry, which is thought to have helped keep the bodies 'fresh.' (Makes me wonder what Colorado does to bodies, since it's so arid here!) That, and the embalming procedure: "formalin to kill bacteria, alcohol to dry the body, glycerin to keep her from overdrying, salicylic acid to kill fungi, and the most important ingredient, zinc salts to give the body rigidity."
     Instead of burying the bodies, monks would let them 'drip dry' until body fluids were gone, store for a while, then a year later, rinse the body with vinegar and re-dress them in their finest garments. The mummy would then be put in their proper place, standing up.

     If your yen for mummies is not yet satisfied, there are always the mummies of Vac, Hungary. These bodies were accidentally discovered in 1994 by workers, stacked up in 265 brightly-painted and ornamented coffins. Apparently the secret crypt had been bricked over hundreds of years ago, and eventually forgotten. Now you can view them, down to their hand-knitted stockings and tightly-clutched rosaries.

Don't give up. There are always the catacombs of Paris to be well as any number of German 'bone houses,' where bodies were only laid at rest in a cemetary until well-rotted. Then the bones were taken apart, and selected items (like skulls) decoratively displayed in large arrangements. Land is at a premium in many areas of Europe, and this was a way to use and re-use the same property. (Shoot, maybe we'll stop by and shake the hand of one of the mummies of Michan.)


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