On August 5, 1949, an earthquake struck the small town of Guano in Ecuador, causing buildings to crack open and crumble. The disaster led to the strange discovery of the Mummy of Guano.
During the earthquake, the walls of the old church Asunción de Guano were destroyed and knocked down to the floor, and there, tucked away inside a large jar inside one of the walls of the church was the Mummy of Guano. Why it was buried in such a unique way inside the walls of the church remains a mystery to many people today as nothing like it had been seen before.
Franciscans and Church Guardian
Part of the old wall of the church. Image courtesy of Chris Aguilar
Originally the mummy was a 15 th century Franciscan by the name of Fray Lázaro de Santofimia. He was sent from Spain to spread Catholicism around the rural parts of the country. He helped give aid and food to the indigenous tribes that live around the town of Guano. He was also one of the founders of another town called San Andres, which is 30 minutes’ drive from the church today.
Fray was also a guardian of the church from 1565 to 1572. Many people claim that since he did so many good things for the people in this area that it was a tribute and an honor to be buried in the walls of the church so his soul could roam around and always be there looking over them. No other mummies have been discovered but part of the wall affected by the earthquake still stands and it is visible to see where the Franciscan was buried.
Historical accounts record that Fray was buried in a giant jar, or ‘cantaro’ as the locals call it, but there is no trace of this jar today. Why he was placed in the jar is also a mystery. Some say it was because of respect but it will never really be known as there are no other examples to compare it to. Once he was placed in the jar, he was covered in a white powder the locals call ‘cal’ and that led the mummy to being preserved until today.
Since then, thanks to research, carbon dating and various studies by the scientists at National Geographic, the age of the mummy was determined. In addition, the mummy had 60 radiographs and two endoscopies that helped verify that Fray was 85 to 90 years old when he died and that his height was 1.70 to 1.75 meters.
During the visit of the scientists, an episode of “The Route of the Mummies” by the Discovery Channel was filmed. The mummy was discovered wearing a scarf around his chin. Some people claim it was used so that the mouth would stay closed and others claim it was a certain belief they had back then. Others say Fray had a toothache and he wore the scarf because he was in pain.
Alongside the mummy, a little mouse was also discovered buried with the Franciscan, and was also mummified. The reason for this is also unexplained. However, there are two stories about it. According to locals and the guides of the museum, the Franciscan was a lonely guy for some time before his death and the mouse was his only friend and so it was placed with him when he died. The other version says that once the Franciscan was buried, the mouse found its way inside the jar he was buried in and tried to eat his remains but wasn’t able to escape after he got into the jar.
The mummy can be found in the town of Guano, Ecuador. The museum is open to the public and can be visited with a small price of 50 cents. Other artifacts like jars, manuscripts and a few more pots were also discovered alongside the church after the earthquake but not near the burial of the Franciscan.