Or the other ancient people on display throughout Louisville? Louisville is an odd city. We have reports of goat men that will call your name, living gargoyles that jump from house to house in old Louisville, a witches' tree, and many more urban legends. But the true history of Louisville is as odd as it's cryptids, and the people who built some of the institutions the city is known for had some bizarre hobbies.
(We are not just referencing Jack Harlow's really weird Febreze hobbyist phase either. SEE: His personal Facebook album literally full of photos of him as a teen posing with bottles of Febreze. We see your weird side, Jack.)
For instance, did you know there are four ancient dead people in Louisville that you can just walk by and say hello to? You can just drive to each of the locations we discuss below and say hello to a saint, a priestess, a roman military soldier, and a queen. Each of them have a unique story to tell, but none of them were born in the Kentuckiana area. Our saints are probably from Italy, and our Queen and our Priestess were from Egypt. Hundreds of years separated them all in life.
Somehow, they all ended up here and on display. Small world isn't it? Let's dive into who they were: 1. Tchaenhotep (Also seen as Then-Hotep/ Pronounced Cha-en-ho-tep)
She was such an icon in her life that she was buried in the Valley of the Queens. The articles we referenced (Cited at the bottom of this article) mentioned that there were either 27 or 42 mummies resting in tombs beside Tchaenhotep. She rested peacefully at her supposed-to-be-final resting place in the Valley of the Queens in Egypt until 1903, when Egyptologist
Ernesto Schiaparellia found her tomb at the request of the Egyptian Government, along with several other well known Queens of Egypt.
This is the same Egyptologist who located Queen Nefertary's (Aka Nefertari/ Aka Queen Ahmose Nefertary/ Q66 for map purposes) tomb. Nefertary was returned home and recently (April 2021) was part of the most glamourous examples of Egyptian excellence to have ever been witnessed globally, The Parade of Pharaohs. We watched it in total awe via livestream, but you can see it at this Experience Egypt Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kaf0LxcVV4
Back to Tchaenhotep though-
Tchaenhotep was resting peacefully until the government decided to take her, some other mummies, and artifacts across the world to St. Louis, MO for the 1904 World's Fair to show off beside other artifacts extracted from tombs. Louisville Lt. Governor Samuel Thurston Ballard decided to purchase Tchaenhotep for $10K and donate her to the Louisville Museum of Natural History.
Then tragedy struck in 1937. Tchaenhotep was being stored in the basement of the museum when the 1937 flood severely damaged her. Like.... she was literally decapitated by a piano and withstood damage to her leg and pelvis. Her sarcophagus was flipped over and an attempt at repainting it was made, but rather unsuccessful. A for effort. LG&E swooped in to help our friend by drying her out in a vacuum tank. (Please see Ruby Research's 2014 article below for more details on the restoration process). She moved one more time to a location on Main street, and in 2000 was put into city storage. Baptist East Hospital and UofL wanted a stab at discovering who this mummy was. At the time, all we really knew was that she was female, Ballard bought her in 1904, and that she had been decapitated. In order to give her some semblance of her identity back, a year long series of scans and X-Rays were given to Tchaenhotep. We discovered her age, 2,500 years old. Her rough age at death was 25-35. And that all lead to us being able to guess that she was wealthy-ish, died suddenly, and we made a 3D print of her head that can be viewed at the Science Center.
Unlike Nefertary, Tchenhotep never got to return home. We don't fully understand who she was or what killed her. She was not returned to Egypt like her neighbor after being bought and brought to Louisville. Instead, she is currently residing at the Louisville Science Center. You might have walked by her several times as a kid, with your kids, or on one of the Science Center's Adult Night events (HIGHLY RECCOMMEND) without ever stopping to read her story. We really hope that the next time you see her, you take a moment to tell her hello! 2. St. Bonosa-
To be completely honest with you, there is no 100% verifiable way to tell you the story of St. Bonosa. We can't exactly verify that she did die the way I'm about to tell you.
St. Bonosa is housed at St. Martin of Tours in the Phoenix Hill Neighborhood. The skeletal St. Bonosa is displayed in a glass sarcophagus across from the remains of St. Magnus, and there are several stories surrounding both of their bodies. I've wanted to visit St. Bonosa since moving to the Louisville Metro in 2010 and reading an article on her in 2016 from Atlas Obscura, but just recently visited her on Valentine's Day of 2022. (It was the most romantic V-Day I've ever had. We visited the skeletons of ancient saints and got a Crave Case from White Castle. 10/10 do recommend for a date night)
Let's begin with the narrative from St.
Martin of Tours because that's who holds them now. There is no formal account of how these saints became saints, but we do have what is on their website.
According to St. Martin of Tours, Both St. Bonosa and St. Magnus were martyred in 207 AD. The legend has it that St. Bonosa was a 16 year old Virgin woman (How did they KNOW though?) and St. Magus was a member of the Roman army. They were both put to death by Emperor Diocletian of Rome.
Emperor Diocletian was persecuting Christians and came across St. Bonosa at some point. Somehow, not only did he know she was a virgin, but he also picked up that she was a Christian and ordered her to be sent to the Colosseum and put to death at the age of 16 for her beliefs. We don't know exactly what killed her, but whatever happened was so inspiring to St. Magnus, that he converted on the spot. According to some lore, he even stepped in to try to prevent her death, resulting in the martyrdom of both saints. They were then sent to an Italian Catacombs, where they remained until 1700. They were cared for by the Nuns of Agnani until the Italian government forced them to leave the monastery. In 1901, Msgr. Frances Zabler requested the relics be brought to St. Martin of Tours, and Pope Leo XIII sent them to Louisville for an arrival of December 31, 1901.
In 2012, UofL Archaeology staff member, Phillip DiBlasi, and a team of four student archaeologists researched the remains and suggested that the story really does correspond well to their findings of the remnants. DiBlasi volunteered to do the study. From what we read in the Catholic Register article about the study, the age is off with St. Bonosa, but they supposedly were from the area and this could potentially be a true story. St. Bonosa's body was very complete and just missing a few fingers and small bones. She was a "100% Caucasian" woman around the age of 24, and she had some stress to her knees from everyday activity. St. Magnus was a 40-50 year old man of mixed African and European ancestry, and he was only about 45% complete missing his jaw and a few other bones.
According to the National Catholic Register, CAT scans of the saints' skulls were done in hopes of creating a facial reconstruction of the two. On September 9, 2012, St. Bonosa and St. Magnus were reinterred in their glass
sarcophaguses where they have remained until today. The ceremony of putting them back to rest inside the church was filmed and is available at a link below. They were open air displayed in the center of the church and mass was conducted in Latin. It is truly a beautiful ceremony. All are welcome to respectfully visit the saints at the Church. Just remember that people are generally there worshipping, so be kind and quiet if you choose to visit. St. Martin of Tours is located at 639 S. Shelby Street Louisville, Kentucky 40202.
Sounds like we are still missing a lot of pieces of the puzzle though, doesn't it? Well, all of the above information is findable by a quick Google search. It wasn't enough for me to feel like these bodies were definitively people who died in the Colosseum. How do we know their story based on the limited information here? Listen, I have faith, but if we can know more, why don't we? If a whole study was done, where is the report? Where is the whole study? We don't even know how they were martyred. Was it lions? Did they get murdered by human weapons? Were the bones lost when they were alive or was there post mortem damage? Were they drowned in one of those elaborate naval battles they used to do at the Colosseum? We don't know. We supposedly know St. Bonosa's age was about a decade off, so what else was off?
Well, I ran a search through the University's library journal system EBSCOhost. Nothing about the church or either skeleton came up. So I reached out to the UofL Library Archives. They got back to me within the same day with boxes on boxes of potential places this archaeology report could be. I went through it all. Tons of info and notes on other archaeology ventures by the University from the same time frame, but absolutely nothing in 3 archive boxes had any info on the skeletons or church. So next I searched for Philip DiBlasi, the Staff Archaeologist mentioned in the Catholic Register article. I found quite a few cemetery excavations he had done, all with reports and narratives. There was an interview by KET with about the same detail we included here. He retired and no longer teaches at the University. In the middle of that search, one of the people from Library Archives sent me to his The Digital Archaeology Records website with his two profiles. Neither had any documentation of this forensic study. There is conflicting information about St. Magnus's ethnicity in the Register and the Record Newspaper, but the Record tends to have more quoted information. It looks like the team spent a month documenting the relics, so we know an analysis was done, but the actual reports are nowhere to be found. Unlike the mummies in this article, scans and reports are not posted near their displays. I couldn't find his contact information to reach out to him directly. But we wanted to know more! So my next step was to reach out to a current UofL Archaeology professor and ask if any more information was floating around the college or was in the department anywhere. Usually this stuff is housed in the archives, but maybe it was in someone's office or something. But it wasn't.
Another incredibly fast response by UofL with the Archaeology Professor. When DiBlasi left the University, it seems that much of his research and many of his records left with him, so we don't have them to reference. It looks like the only place this info was published was the Catholic Register and the Record article cited below which state that DiBlasi directly volunteered for this research of the two saints. This current professor that I reached out to mentioned that a few current students have brought up the saints this semester, and they are interested in doing a second study on them.
I think it is worth noting that our revised 2005 edition of the Dictionary of Saints by John J. Delaney does not feature either saint in the book. It has 648 pages of well known, lesser known, and new to the church saints, but neither Bonosa or Magnus are featured in here. Why?
We are absolutely coming back to these two once a second study is done ... if the church allows them to be reviewed a second time. Whether we amend this article or give them a whole separate article, we aren't sure yet. But we are left with SO many questions! How did they die? Are there defensive wounds? Is there evidence to support that St. Magnus intervened? If St. Bonosa was actually 24, what was her story? Do we actually have those CT scans somewhere to give faces to these skeletons? There is so much more to their stories here that we just do not have the verifiable info outside that which is provided by the Catholic church and their records. We cannot wait to learn more and update you all as we know more.
3. Sheryet-Mehyet "Shery"
Last but not least, the most elusive mummy in Louisville. Sheryet-Mehyet is the one ancient lady on this list that I have not had the honor of seeing myself. However, according to documents, she is here.....somewhere. We, again, don't know a whole lot about her. We have verbal reports from the College, mainly stimming from a WFPL interview and a couple records we could find online cited below. We also have some scans that we haven't seen but are supposedly posted with her body. But again, we have more questions than answers! So, we will again start with what we know of Sheyet-Mehyet.
Sheryet- Mehyet was alive around 700 BC and is incredibly well preserved. The hieroglyphics on her sarcophagus have not been entirely read and deciphered, but we do know her name is Sheryet-Mehyet which apparently translates to ‘child of the goddess Mehmet.’ But...we couldn't find a record of a goddess spelled Mehmet. Surely someone can tell us who this goddess is, right? From what we understand, "child of" also can mean "worshipper of" or "priestess of." Many people represent themselves as "a child of God," so would this be a similar representation? And so the Baptist Seminary has an Egyptian Priestess mummy on display? Seems like an odd final resting place for someone who was long dead before Baptists became a religion. Arriving in Louisville in 1906, one year after Tchaenhotep, Shery was purchased and transported to Louisville by Dr. Thomas Treadwell Eaton with the suspected financial support of a Ms. J. Smith, wife of a deacon at Walnut Street Baptist Church. Upon arriving to Louisville, Sheryet-Mehyet was donated to the Baptist Theological Seminary. Sheryet-Mehyet has been well maintained and well hidden through different decades. She has been known to be seen in the Baptist Seminary's storage closets, the offices of different professors, and even was on display in the cafeteria for a short period. At one point in time in the early 60s, her lid was lifted, her face was unwrapped, and she was put on display in Norton Hall. Luckily, in 2008, they rewrapped her and moved her to a display in the Seminary Library. We went to go visit her this summer, but due to renovations at the Library, we were unable to find her on our visit.
Only one of the articles I found about Sheryet-Mehyet mentions her going through scans.
Dr. Bill Jackson at Baptist Memorial Health ran X-rays and a CT on Sheryet-Mehyet and discovered that she was around the age of 50 when she passed of natural causes. Only one article I could find, on Mummies.com, states this, but supposedly there are X-rays and CTs displayed with her wherever she is.
We are running into another series of events, similar to the trajectory of the Saints above, of a Church purchasing a mummy from Egypt, providing her to a Baptist College which then had her records evaluated by Baptist Medical Group. Not a whole lot about who she was is available. We want to know as much about her as we can!
So first of all, what makes a person want a body to display? This supposed priestess was purchased by church members for what reason? Does it seem at all off to anybody else that a group of Baptists on a religious vacation just waltzed in to Egypt and chose to bring home a mummy for fun? If a group of another religious affiliation and nationality walked into a Baptist cemetery and bought the corpse of a deacon and their casket, and put them on display in their religiously affiliated private school, I feel like there would be a lot of negative attention and a push to bring them home. Was there more to the story here other than a rich woman wanting to bring home a mummy and giving it to the church? I can't imagine how the body of a priestess of a polytheistic religion was treated back in the early 1900s, but it makes me incredibly sad that she is relatively without her identity and won't get to go home to her original final resting place. Can't we run the scans, take photos of the sarcophagus and wrappings, and send the mummies home?
As a final note, in searching for the goddess "Mehmet" to find out more about Sheryet-Mehyet's life, I was unable to find that particular goddess or spelling. Without seeing the particular hieroglyphics to compare or run an image search, all I could do was search the anglicized spelling. If anyone knows anyone familiar with hieroglyphics who can tell us which goddess is Mehmet, please send them our way! None matched 100%, but I did discover Mehet-Weret with a similar pronunciation. And get this, Mehet-Weret means "Great Flood".
Of the two mummies present in Louisville in the GREAT FLOOD of 1937, guess which one stayed entirely dry and well preserved. You know.
Each of the ancients mentioned in this article are in places you may go and visit! Please remember when you visit that these were once living breathing people who walked the earth just like you and I. They had thoughts, dreams, feelings, and duties. They probably had loved ones back home.
While we came across these mummies and skeletons and had them shipped to the Louisville metro, many North American mummies exist too. In fact, in this research we became aware of mummies in Mammoth and Salt Lick Caves. Those are both considerably further away to visit, but we may launch a little more of a deep dive into these local mummies at a later time.
Tchaenhotep Resources: 1. 2014 article and Science Center Photo by Ruby Research - https://web.archive.org/web/20150402125724/http://www.rubyresearch.com/2/post/2014/08/louisvilles-mummy.html 2. Mummipedia - https://mummipedia.fandom.com/wiki/Then-Hotep 3. Valley of the Queens Survey of Burial Sites
4. Experience Egypt's Youtube Channel was LOADED with information - Coverage of the Parade of Pharaohs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnlXW7KZl0c
5. Nefertary's Pharaoh Car - (Bankkok Post Photographer -https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/2094487/golden-parade-carries-pharaohs-to-new-home-in-egyptian-capital ) 6. National Weather Service Image of Ohio River Flood, 1937 https://www.weather.gov/iln/1937OhioRiverFlood
7. LouToday Then-Hotep Timeline
Saint Bonosa Resources 1. St. Martin of Tours Website- https://stmartinoftourslouisville.org/shrine%20of%20two%20saints.htm
2. St. Martin of Tours Reinternment Video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwx0_ppmuFc
3. The Catholic Register https://www.ncregister.com/news/relics-of-the-past-and-the-present 4. UofL's Anthropology site- Letters from the field. https://louisville.edu/anthropology/undergraduate/letters-from-the-field/kara-carmichael
5. Atlas Obscura - Stephen J. Taylor's photo
6. The Digital Archaeology Records- https://core.tdar.org/browse/creators/40875/philip-j-diblasi?startRecord=50&recordsPerPage=50
7. The Record Newspaper- https://therecordnewspaper.org/saints-remains-at-st-martin-of-tours-church-are-examined/
1.Mummies in Kentucky https://www.mummies.com/kentucky.html 2. WFPL Ashlie Stevens - Sheryet-Mehyet https://wfpl.org/sheryet-mehyet-southern-seminarys-skeleton-closet/