Chichicastenango Staint Tomas, Staint Thomas Church
We have finally found a day of rest. Yesterday we arrived at Lago de Atitlan to a supposed three star hotel that really should only qualify for two. Mark has purchased a Spanish language text book and I’ve started blogging… Hopefully I’ll work out how the JoBlogsTravel.com site works today and you will all be reading this tomorrow morning with your cup of coffee.
Yesterday, after three and a half hours cramped in a mini bus we arrived in Chichicastenango, yep big word. At 2030 metres above sea level it’s the second biggest market in the Southern Hemisphere apparently.
Cobbled streets strewn with colourful hand embroidered cloth, leather goods and possible antiquities; best of all most of the Mashenos, local Mayan or Indians – as they are referred to here, wearing traditional dress.
As seems to be the practice in most of the non-western world, this town is built around the main religious building, which in this case is a Catholic church. The Church of Saint Tomas also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenanga sits on top of a knoll near the market and was built in 1540 by the Spanish. Several whitewashed stairs lead up to a set of grandiose heavy wooden doors opening into the dark ornate church.
Although the local Chichi people call themselves Catholic they practice their religion with a heavy Mayan slant and this is what I found particularly interesting.
So I headed up the stairs and past the friendly flower and vegetable wallahs. All of the people are so happy and say “hola” as you are passing.
Outside, candles were lit on carved, low wooden platforms each about the size of a card table and they sat just a few inches from the ground. A sprinkling of rose petals lay around each cluster of candles and the sweet smell of incense hung in the air.
A tiny old woman stood in the doorway and put her wrinkled brown upturned hand out for money as I approached. So I took her hand softly, while reading her palm I told her fortune, as I normally do with people asking for money on the street… “You will live to a very old age. You will have many grandchildren and will not die from horse bite or hijacking”. She would not have understood a word but as usual I think it is just a new interaction that she’s never had before from these modern invaders in her town.
Inside, it became apparent that the low wooden ‘tables’ outside were altars, another Mayan influence. There were probably 20 lined up between the front door and the altar at the front of the church and they were all covered in the candles and rose petals too. I thought to myself this is probably the closest any modern person could ever get to the original sacrificial Mayan culture and how lucky I was to have decided to take a peek in the church on top of the small knoll.