After the Spanish triumphed in the Aztec city of Tenochtitla'n most of the city lay in ruins. Temples, gathering places, and administrative centers were sacked and burned. The Spanish used the remaining materials, along with Aztec labor to construct new, "Christian" monuments.
The Aztec craftsmen put to the task of Christianizing their city were very resistant, often embellishing Christian ornaments with characteristics from their own religion. In other cases, they simply added their own religious icons within the mix of sculptures of Christian saints, often inside of the statues themselves.
This refiguring of sacred icons, or "syncreticism" as it is known, can be obviously found in a chapel in Tonantzintla, Puebla, Mexico, where among the decorative, sacred motifs lies an indigenous recreation of paradise. In this image the indigenous people are painted as angels, while the Spanish are depicted as the red-haired devils below. For centuries it appeared that the only known indigenous religious icons were those that were shown blended in with Christian icons. For example, the Aztec goddess Tonantzin was recreated in the image the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, and is featured wherever Mexican patriotism is to be found.
In the 1960's, however, while laying the foundations for a subway station near the main plaza in Mexico City, or Z6calo, workers uncovered ruins of the Aztec "Templo Mayor". In its time, the temple, or pyramid, honored the gods 'Huizilopochtli' and 'Tlaloc', the gods of war and rain. Inconsiderate of its meaning to the defeated Aztecs, the Spanish used its volcanic rock in the XIVth century, converting the temple into a monument to their own religion, Christianity.
This phenomena, however, was not limited to central Mexico. In the Americas during the 'conquest', wherever an indigenous monument was found, it was soon to be razed, with a catholic monument erected in its place. Could this explain the myriad of colonial era catholic churches that still stand throughout Latin America?
Stop Here and Discuss:
1. What types of monuments or icons exist that represent your culture/religion? What is their importance?
2. Is is important to preserve artifacts, or monuments from the past, or past cultures? What do these monuments represent? Explain.
Other study guides:
Second Class Citizens
Destruction of Histories
Death by Diseases
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