Last Updated on October 3, 2022
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Updated for 2022 / 2023
By Donna Manz
I love mummies.
I love the Boris Karloff kind but, more than that, I love the authentic mummies of ancient Egypt found in the world’s great museums. And as hard as it is to believe that people minor in subjects like “Ancient Egypt,” I actually did.
The allure of the Pyramids, the multi-chambered burial tombs, the cloth-wrapped bodies encased for eternity, all fascinate me. Whether I’m in the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, or the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, I seek out the Egyptology collection first.
And while the amulets, the icons, the pieces of stone and bronze, demand my attention, it is the mummies that transport me back more than 2,000 years.
So you can image my surprise when I discovered one needn’t go to Cairo, London, Paris or Vienna for them. I found that the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium, along a tree-lined street in San Jose, CA houses the largest ancient Egyptian collection of artifacts in western North America.
I had thought that the Rosicrucian order subscribed to a set of spiritual beliefs. But I learned that it is, in fact, more of a group of like-minded people studying mysticism. And, in fact, the origins of the order is still not certain. Some say it was founded about a hundred years ago, others saying it is much older. But it is known that its Egyptian collection began with a single artifact. The museum now showcases more than 4,000 artifacts, many donated, many more discovered on expeditions.
I started the tour of the museum in an orderly manner but there was so much to see over several building levels, I honed in on the artifacts that were in harmony with my passions. That meant the mummies – including explanatory videos – and the amulets or icons that brought good luck or warded off bad luck.
I was also struck by a mummified cat; cats were revered in ancient Egypt. The museum houses cat depictions in various media. The room dedicated to cats and other icons can take an hour to go through if you read every caption. I did not, but I found that there was much more to see in the museum than I could take in during but a couple of hours.
I really wish I had taken time to research the museum’s history and collections before I visited there. Now that I know how much the museum holds, I would make an action plan to avoid missing something special were I to return there.
The sarcophagi – still in vivid hues, human or sphinx-shaped – were spellbinding. Seeing them brought back images of the classic, original “The Mummy” movie, a film I watch every Halloween season. It’s easy to pretend I’m in an imaginary world where mummies come to life.
A Small Child
The most haunting part of my visit was seeing the mummified remains of a little child. Several years ago, the museum partnered with Stanford University and a computer graphics company to unravel the mystery of the tiny mummy. University radiologists scanned the mummy with high-tech equipment that rendered 60,000 two-dimensional scans of the child.
The scans were sent to the computer graphics laboratory where three-dimensional composites were created. The mummy, named Sherit by the museum, appears to be a four- or five-year-old girl who died about 2,000 years ago. Data analysis suggests she died suddenly, and I can only imagine the grief her parents held, carefully and tenderly preparing her for her return to life.
Flash photography and strollers are not permitted in the museum. If you are traveling with a young child, make sure you can carry the child if she is not old-enough to walk on her own. There are several levels but there are elevators for non-mobile guests.
If you go:
The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium
1660 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95191
Open: Friday 10am–5pm / Saturday and Sunday 11am–6pm.
Admission: adults $10.00 | 65+ years, students and children 7-17 – $8.00 | children 6 and younger free