Mummy Hermione among revelatory treasures as Girton College Museum opens its doors

By Culture24 Staff | 18 March 2010
a close up photograph of a mummy portrait depicting a young woman with a long nose, brown eyes and hair

Hermione is the only known instance of a mummy or portrait of a woman teacher. Courtesy Girton College

Rarely-seen treasures from Anglo-Saxon England, Ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean are being opened up to public view following the refurbishment of the small museum of Girton College Cambridge.

The Lawrence Room at Girton contains a range of unique pieces including Anglo-Saxon treasures recovered on the college site in 1881 and, perhaps most importantly, Hermione Grammatike, a named portrait mummy of a young female classics teacher from the Fayum city of Roman-era Egypt.

Excavated by William Flinders Petrie during the winter season of 1910/1911 in the Roman cemetery at Hawara, on the eastern edge of the Fayum, Hermione has become something of a Girton icon.

a photograph of a gallery with display cases

The Lawrence Room at Cambridge College

The subject of poems and a couple of college plays, she returned to England as a complete mummy, with her portrait still in place, featuring fine wrappings which were considered equally noteworthy.

Writing in 1911, Petrie described how rare it was for the names of the people mummified had been preserved. "The most important of these is that of Hermione the Grammatike, or teacher of the classics, whose name and title are painted in white on the ground of the portrait," he explained.

"This is the only instance known of a mummy or portrait of a woman teacher; it now rests in the library of Girton College."

Several primary school women teachers are known from Roman Egypt but, as a female teacher at a more advanced level, Hermione Grammmatike is unique.

a full length photograph of a mummy with a young woman's face painted onto it

(Above) Courtesy Girton College

Visitors to the college can discover more about her unique story together with a wide range of important artefacts and antiquities in state-of-the-art display cases, with fully-supporting information.

"We are delighted to now be able to provide regular public access to the Lawrence Room," says College Curator Frances Gaudy. "It is a truly fascinating collection and quite a hidden treasure.

"It is already of great interest to researchers and academics and we hope that its new, regular open hours will mean that a far wider audience will be able to enjoy these pieces."

The Lawrence Room is open to the public every Thursday between 2pm and 4pm, other times by appointment only (please allow at least 24 hours). For all enquiries and appointments email lawrenceroom@girton.cam.ac.uk.

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