Today, the great pyramid at Chichén Itzá (known as El Castillo), is covered with a smooth and unbroken sheath of limestone blocks. The stairways are also made up of finely-cut limestone and the balustrades are straight, square-edged, and well defined. It is due to this sharp-edged veneer of stones and the arrow-straightness of the balustrade that the corner of the pyramid is able to cast its seven triangles of light and shadows on the side of the staircase during the spring and fall equinoxes.
Have you ever heard of the Nephites or Lamanites? If you are a Mormon, you have. If you are not a Mormon, you probably know them by their real name, the Maya. Here is the story of how the names became linked:
In 1841, an American adventurer named John Lloyd Stephens and a British artist named Frederick Catherwood stayed at the ruins of Tulum for over a week during their tour of Yucatán. Although the pair found the ruins covered in vines and trees, they also discovered signs of recent rituals and offerings left behind by the Maya in one of the buildings. Stephens later wrote a book about the trip, Incidents of Travel in Yucatán, and published it in 1843. Engravings of drawings made by Catherwood at Tulum were included in the book. It was a run-away best-seller.
A few years after the War of the Castes had gotten underway in Yucatan, a new religious cult sprang up among the rebel ranks; el Culto de la Cruz Parlante (the Cult of the Talking Cross). The members of this cult were called the Cruzoob, the Spanish word for “cross” pluralized by the Mayan suffix oob. The origins of the cult can be traced back to the Mayan “talking idols,” one of which had been located on Cozumel when the Spanish arrived in 1517; the temple of Ixchel in San Gervasio, which contained the “talking idol” described by Francisco López de Gómara in 1552. The interior of the temple had a small room in the back where the statue of the goddess Ixchel stood. Gómara stated it was a room “…where they kept a very strange idol, very distinct from the others. The body of this great idol was hollow, made of baked clay and fastened to the wall with mortar, in back of which was something like a sacristy, where the priests had a small secret door cut into the side of the idol, into which one of them would enter, and from it speak to and answer those who came to worship and beg favors. With this trickery, simple men were made to believe whatever the god told them.”
In 1985, I took part in the “Tulum Lighthouse Project,” a project of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) which was underwritten by the National Geographic Society and the Kempner Fund. The project was the idea of Michael Creamer, an American who came up with the theory that the twin window/vent holes on the ocean-facing side of the building in Tulum known as “El Castillo” could act as a sort of range light system for Mayan canoes attempting to cross over the reef at night to land on the beach next to the building.