Temple 22

East Court of Temple 22

"18-Rabbit's most memorable work during this period was Temple 22, a building that has long been admired as one of the finest of all Maya architectural expressions.

We know now that by raising Temple 22, 18-Rabbit was re-creating a type of structure that had been built many time before by his ancestors, expressing their own special vision of Creation.

This temple's last and most ambitious manifestation was constructed with mud mortar, a kind of construction that required constant and careful maintenance to ensure that its plaster seal did not leak and weaken the walls.

Once the Copánecs no longer maintained it, it deteriorated and collapsed.

Today we have only fragments of the beautiful sculptures that once decorated it—pieces found lying in the grass by the temple's feet—but they are enough to help us contemplate the building's lost beauty and significance."

Freidel, Schele, Parker, Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path, p. 147-8


Temkple 22

Fragments of the great Witz Monster Central Door

"18-Rabbit's master masons shaped the central door of his temple to represent the mouth and gullet of the great Witz Monster.

This was meant to indicate that the interior of the temple symbolized a living cave that opened into the heart of the mountain.

To the Classic Maya, all natural openings into the earth, whether caves or cenotes (sunken waterholes), were portals to the Otherworld.

Their architecture echoes this belief. Deep behind this cave door stood the sanctum where 18-Rabbit and his successor conjured up their ancestors and the gods."

Freidel, Schele, Parker, Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path, p. 149-50


Temple 22

Copan: Inner Door of Temple 22

"The frame of the doorway that led into this inner chamber was one of the most extraordinary architectural compositions ever conceived by the Classic Maya.

A Cosmic Monster, representing the arching body of the Milky Way in its east-west configuration, frames the door in such deep relief carving that it seems to be writhing out of the wall.

The front end of the monster takes the shape of a crocodilian head and is decorated with the symbols of Venus. Pointing west, the counterpart in the sky of this great crocodile parallels the ecliptic so that planets often travel along its belly following the path of the sun.

At the opposite end, the sun-marked plate of sacrifice that sits on the junction of the Milky Way and ecliptic rides the tail of the monster.

In the great lazy-S scrolls composing its arching, serpentlike body cavort the beings who have been conjured up by the bloodletting rituals inside the sanctum.

These particular scrolls are clouds. For the Maya, clouds of light in the night sky constitute one perception of the Milky Way.

Clouds as metaphors for the heavens still prevail among some modern Yukatek shamans. Clouds, rain-laden, celestial, or in the form of sweet incense smoke, harbor ch'ulel, the soul stuff of the living universe.

Here at Copan the beings conjured up in the clouds are spirits called way or nawal and the serpent-footed god, K'awil--all beings that the king called upon in the exercise of his power."

Freidel, Schele, Parker, Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path, p. 151


Temple 22

"The cloud-conjured body of the Cosmic Monster is held up by the elegantly modeled figures of two of the Pawahtunob, also called bakabob, the world bearers who hold up the four corners of the sky.

Here are the bearers of the east and the west, the path of the sun.

Below their feet rest skulls, referring to the place of death and to the gaping skeletal maw of the Vision Serpent that opens into the Otherworld.

The inscriptions along the tread between the skulls record the completion of 18-Rabbit's first k'atun of reign and also the dedication date of this temple.

The inner sanctum of Temple 22 thus recalls the original acts of establishing sacred space at the time of the Creation."

Freidel, Schele, Parker, Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path, p. 152


Temple 22

Copan: Inner Door of Temple 22

l & Elizabeth Kelemen were pioneers in the field of Mesoamerican Art History. Visiting Copán in 1940, they wrote: "A little farther on, our attention was attracted by a small structure standing at one end of a sunken court, the spectacular, so-called Structure 22.

Amazingly, this building remained in fairly good condition until razed by an earthquake in 1934. Maudslay's careful notes and photographs from the 1880s were of great help when excavations were undertaken shortly afterward. It stood on its own e-shaped podium on top of the 20-foot terrace that framed the entire court.

The building was dated to the mid-eighth century, and had not been erected over an older structure. A flight of seven massive steps raised it above the level of the other buildings, their risers apparently carved with much-eroded glyphs.

We entered into a narrow passage through the gaping jaws of a scaly monster with two curving stone tusks at the sides. Beyond was another carved portal, set back and shielded by the outside walls.

The central chamber was raised about a foot and supported at the ends by two large skulls, each made of a single stone.

Above at either side were sculptures of large human figures. On their hunched backs, the figures supported the twisted mass of a fantastic, two-headed monster, whose writhing body formed the lintel, held in place by a thick wooden beam.

In and out of the creature's convoluted body wove small, grotesque human figures, with elaborate headdresses and jewels, their arms and legs interwoven as if struggling with the elements.

The high sill was also carved with skulls and glyphs, so that the entire entrance to the inner room was framed with sculptures.

It appeared that the carving was originally covered with a thin layer of plaster and brightly painted. It had been refurbished so often that some of the exquisite detail of feathers, incised decorations, tassels, and individual hands and feet were lost underneath the multiple coatings.

The work was Baroque in feeling, in its complication of design and ebullience of detail, in the dramatic dynamics of its whole concept, and in its untrammeled, monumental freedom.

This profound document in stone voiced the supernatural, occult elements behind Maya religion.

It was not one sculptor's interpretation of some religious tenet, but the articulation of a complete, collective imagination, expressed with such clarity that even a twentieth-century Christian could not help but be struck by the physical power and fantasy of this alien world."

Pál & Elizabeth Kelemen, The Kelemen Journals: Incidents of Discovery of Art in the Americas, 1932–1964, p. 62-3