Guatemala

Photographic travels with Ernie Alderete

Colorful celebrations honoring Santiago de los Caballeros, partron saint of Antigua, Guatemala.

Antigua was the capital not only of Guatemala but of the entire Central American Captaincy General under Spanish colonial rule until it was destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1776.

The capital was then moved to the current Guatemala City, but Antigua Guatemala, with its cobble stone streets remains the cultural heart of Guatemala.

Life on the steps of Santo Tomas Church.

Marigolds, roses, gladiolas and other freshly cut flowers are on sale for use as offerings to the Maya gods. Quiche Maya from miles around come to Chichicastenango for the Sunday market. They sleep, eat and socialize on the steps to the church, and in the courtyard.

Honeybees zoom in on freshly sliced fruit at the Sunday market. What at first glance appeared to be watermelon seeds, were actually bees!

Incense tamales? Hard rock-like copal incense wrapped in kindling wood to resemble the ancient corn-husk wrapped cornmeal food to provide sustenance to the gods. Yellow and white Mayan votive candles, on sale across the street from Santo Tomas Church in Chichicastenango, northwest of Guatemala City and due north of Lake Atitlan.

The half-foot long faux tamales are burned upon an altar at the bottom of the steps to the church, which was built by the Spanish conquistadors atop a Quiche Maya Temple.

Out of reverence towards the Maya gods no one enters the church through the main door. Only the side entrances are utilized.

Santo Tomas is the last Roman Catholic Church in Guatemala where Maya gods are openly worshipped.

Rose petals are plucked and scattered across four, square altars in the center aisle of the XVI Century church. Worshippers sprinkle moonshine liquor on the petals and candles as they talk to the gods, carrying on conversations with them as you would to a living person standing right next to you, discussing issues and events in their lives, such as the death of a child, marital problems or the failure of a crop.

Santo Tomas is the only Catholic Church where Jesus Christ does not occupy his customary place of honor over the altar. Here Saint Thomas holds center stage.

The Maya tolerate the parish priest, but in reality, the Maya are the senior landlords over this plot of sacred land.

Forest-framed view of Atitilan, reputedly the most beautiful lake in the Americas.

Chic restaurant on rim of Lake Atitlan.

For the first time in centuries Maya have returned to Tikal to observe sacred ceremonies from millennia past.

Photos and text by Ernie Alderete

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