In August of 1980 while repairing the floor of the church, there were 12 caskets discovered containing partially mummified bodies of children. This discovery attracted a lot of attention and 4 of these tombs were sent to the INAH Yucatan Center to be studied and preserved. These 4 bodies half mummified came back to Santa Elena 20 years later, when the presbytery was restored and named “Museum of the mummies”.
Originally named Nohcacab, Santa Elena stands on a pre-Columbian settlement of the Classic Maya period (600-1000 AD), Already inhabited at the Spanish conquest of Yucatán (1547) as Uxmal and all the sites of the Puuc Route, Nohcacab (Santa Elena) was during the colony an encomienda that is a tribute-paying small community with an ethnically mixed population which included Spanish people, creoles, mestizos and mulattos.
In the early 1840s (1841 & 1843) American explorer John Lloyd Stephens and English architect Frederick Catherwood used this small town as a base from which they explored all of the Puuc area. Thanks to this we still have detailed accounts about the people of Nohcacab (Santa Elena) and their culture, as well as drawings showing the village and the archeological sites.
In 1847 the so-called Caste War broke out and Nohcacab (Santa Elena) was attacked and even burned down several times, the second attack came in 1849. After this attack the village was devastated and most of the Spanish and mestizo people immigrated to Merida. Around that time the village was officially renamed as Santa Elena (“ele nah” which means burned houses in the Mayan language).
In 1865, after the Napoleon III conquest and during the government of Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg (1863-1867), 225 German-speaking colonizers (most of which were poor peasants and handicraftsmen) settled in Santa Elena to form the Villa Carlota farming colony. With the triumph of Benito Juarez the reign of Emperor Maximilian I collapsed in 1867 and Mexico became a republic. “Villa Carlota”, a project of the Empire failed. Some women who married locals stayed in Santa Elena, some families found work in the Haciendas of the area, others relocated to cities or other states, and very few made it back to Germany. There are still a few descendents of the colonizers in Santa Elena; people still remember some of the family members of the “Solz” or the “Dietrich”.