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The Iglesia at Chichén Itzá


One of the earliest structures in the Late Classic zone of Chichén Itzá, the Iglesia ("church" in Spanish) dates from about AD 600-700, based on radiocarbon dates from wooden lintels. Located by the east end of the Nunnery Complex, the Iglesia's exterior frieze and roofcomb are decorated in the elaborate Puuc style, with a limestone masonry veneer made up of typical Puuc mosaic elements including Chac masks, stepped frets, zigzag lines, and pilasters.

Panels flanking the doorways have four bacabs (Maya bearers of the heavens), along with a crab, armadillo, snail, and tortoise. The curved appendages sticking out from the corners are "noses" of the Maya rain god Chac, whose masks are ubiquitous on Late Classic buildings in the Puuc (hill) zone of northern Yucatán. The relatively small (8 x 4.5 m, by 11.3 m high) Iglesia was used by Catherwood and Stephens during their visit in 1841 as an early darkroom:

"The interior...consists of a single apartment, once covered with plaster, and along the top of the wall under the arch are traces of a line of medallions or cartouches in plaster, which once contained hieroglyphics. ...This chamber, by the way, was the best we had found for our daguerrotype operations; having but one door, it was easily darkened..."  (Stephens 1843, v2).

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[Fig.1: Façade of the Iglesia at Chichén Itzá (photo: Athena Review).]


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