While exploring the ruins of an old Catholic church in the Maya pueblo of Piste, in Yucatan, Max and I made an amazing discovery. The church was built with stones from Maya ruins! You can clearly see Maya warriors, snake heads, glyphs, and faces! We took lots of photos and talked to the locals to see what we could learn about this odd sight.
Not long after, we were in Kaua, another Yucatan pueblo, and something spooky and very supernatural feeling happened.
It was late in the day—twilight really—and we were pulling out of our friend Francisco’s house to head back to Valladolid where we were spending the night. I drove around the block and pulled to a stop waiting to turn back onto the main road. But, as I sat there waiting, I looked across the street to where the small road continued on and saw fog so thick that all I could see was a dim light shining through it. I was tired after a long day of working with the people in this little Maya pueblo, and I almost dismissed the fog, but it seemed to be beckoning me.
And so, I drove across the main road when traffic cleared just so I could drive into the fog and see how it felt. But when I did, there was NO FOG THERE AT ALL!
It wasn’t as if the fog cleared, it simply ceased to exist.
When I sat in the car looking across the road, I could see nothing down the street but trees bending over both sides of the road and a pea-soup think fog covering the entirety of the road with only a dim light shining through it. But as soon as I crossed the main road, the fog was simply no longer there and in front of me was the ruin of an ancient Catholic church. The newer part of the church was attached to it and I could see a small, dark red door and that same light that I saw peering through the dense fog at me.
I was confused, but also excited and, since it was already late, we made a plan to come back the next day.
Sometimes it feels like forces are calling you, leading you, leaving out breadcrumbs for you to follow. This is one of those stories, and it doesn’t end here.
The next morning, Max and I went back over to see the old church. We wandered through its broken walls and overgrown rooms and soon we discovered that it too, like the church in Piste, had stones with Mayan carvings on them!
So, of course, I started digging into the mystery to discover what the history was behind this odd combination of Catholic churches built with Maya stones.
When the Spanish conquered the area, there were lots of Maya buildings made from limestone in the area and, of course, it makes total sense that they would use these already nicely cut stones to make their Catholic churches just from the perspective of ease of building. One might also think that by using the stones of ancient Maya sacred buildings, the Spanish were reinforcing the idea that they had taken over. A new religion was now in place, and the old ways were to be left behind. You might think the stones would be a constant reminder to the indigenous people that their religion had been “torn down” and now must give way to a new way of believing.
Except for one thing.
Above the door of the church in Piste were two snake heads, evenly placed like sentinels guarding the entrance to the holy building. And over the door on the other side of the Piste church was a Maya face, angelic looking, but definitely of ancient Maya origin.
If the Spanish were sending a message to remind the natives that they had been conquered and were no longer allowed to worship in their old ways, why would they put these symbolic stones in such important places?
The snake, of course is a reminder of Kukulkan, a major god of the Maya and the deity that the pyramid in close-by Chichen Itza was dedicated to. Having its form in duplicate over the door to the Catholic church seems to invite one to honor this important Maya god!
The church in Kaua was in much poorer condition and, although it is hard to see where the original door might have been, we still found Maya carvings in its corner stones and arches, again, these are significant places in the structure.
And then there is the church in Uyama. Another mystery altogether.
Remember the part about the Universe leaving breadcrumbs? The part about being drawn inexplicably to places? Well, three times over the past months we had been to Kaua, and each time we had gotten lost along the way. For some odd reason, even though the roads were well marked, we kept ending up on a road where the palms and strangler figs encroached on the pavement until it was so narrow there was only room for one car to pass.
Each time we turned around and easily found our way back to the main road but could not understand how we had missed it in the first place.
And then, later, as I was researching Mayan carvings on Catholic Churches in Yucatan, I found the most beautiful church with stunning designs, colors, and some very mysterious Mayan carvings set right above the lintel of the main doorway.
And guess where the church is?
It is just past the place where Max and I turned around those three times, the place where we thought we were lost, the place where the Forces That Be were trying to take us!
Soon, we will go there. In the meantime, I am still working on the puzzle of why the Spanish built churches with Mayan carvings in such prominent places.
I promise to report back soon.