Temple of the Foliated Cross

Temple of the Foliated Cross

Each of the temples in the Cross Group is dedicated to a specific god in the Palenque triad, and represents one of the paths to Xibalba [the Otherworld] which the king must take in order to bring back gifts of life and prosperity to his people.

God GII, the last born of the Palenque triad, is associated with the Temple of the Foliated Cross. He is always zoomorphic in aspect, and has been identified with the Maya names Tahil, Bolon Tzacab, and Kauil. GII is particularly associated with the ritual of bloodletting, the institution of kingship, and the summoning of the ancestors.


Temple of the Foliated Cross cose-up

The entire front wall and mansard roof of the Temple of the Foliated Cross have fallen, which gives the building its unusual appearance. It originally looked much like the Temple of the Sun, with three entrance doorways and four stuccoed piers. However, it's current condition allows us to see the construction of its interior spaces. Mary Ellen Miller writes:

"East of the aqueduct, the three temples of the Group of the Cross (the Temples of the Sun, the Cross and the Foliated Cross) show yet another architectural innovation. In this design -- common to each of the temples -- the two parallel galleries are intersected at right angles by another corbeled passage, creating a great chamber.

Each temple also has an inner shrine at the rear of the building. The post and lintel doorway, as well as the usual mansard roof, conceal the interior space. At Palenque the achievement of private, interior space is as significant as the negative, public space defined by the volumes of the buildings."

Mary Ellen Miller, The Art of Mesoamerica from Olmec to Aztec, p. 130


Temple of the Foliated Cross roofed shrine chamber called pib na

The central rear room contains a roofed shrine chamber -- a room within a room -- that is called the pib na (the "underworld house" within the "sacred mountain"). In each of the three buildings, the doorjamb texts give the name for the building, apparently derived from the central motif that decorates the extraordinary carved panel on the inside back wall of each pib na.

...The motif in the Temple of the Foliated Cross (the na te kan), commemorates the earthly realm, in keeping with its location on the east, the life-giving direction of the rising sun. This motif depicts the maize plant, the sustainer of life, from which sprout human heads (in the creation myth of the Popol Vuh, human beings were fashioned by the gods from maize dough).

Robert J. Sharer, The Ancient Maya, p. 284

"In each temple, the central image was flanked on the one side by a short figure encased in a heavy cloth costume, and on the other by Chan-Bahlum wearing simple dress. From there the action moved to the two exterior panels, following the path of the king from the Otherworld to the natural one. On the outer panels the king is shown returning in triumph from his transformational journey: he has changed from heir to the reigning monarch of Palenque."

Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, p. 239


Temple of the Foliated Cross left side of tablet showing Chan Bahlum presenting god GII to the foliated cross

In this panel, Chan-Bahlum is shown presenting Kauil, God GII of the Palenque triad, to the foliated cross depicted on the central panel.

Chan-Bahlum appears as one of the celebrants in each temple in the Cross Group, but he is portrayed at different ages in each temple. George Kubler writes: "The body of the figure in the tablet of the Temple of the Cross is the oldest and heaviest, with a large paunch and a deep facial furrow from nostril to mouth. At the Temple of the Sun the same person appears years younger, and at the Temple of the Foliated Cross, the slender body and uplifted glance suggest the youngest of the three portraits."

Kubler notes that Chan-Bahlum stands upon a three faced skull comprised of a frontal view compounded with two profiles. From the skull, maize leaves are sprouting.

George Kubler, Studies in Ancient American and European Art: The Collected Essays of George Kubler, p. 319


Temple of the Foliated Cross  detail of central world tree formed by maize plant topped by the celestial bird

"The portal of the Temple of the Foliated Cross bears a foliated variant of the World Tree formed by a maize plant rising from a band of water and Kan-cross Waterlily Monster, one of the symbols of the watery world of raised fields and swamps.

In the crown of this foliated tree sits a huge water bird wearing the mask of the Celestial Bird. The branches of the tree are ears of maize manifested as human heads, for, in the Maya vision, the flesh of human beings was made from maize dough. This Foliated Cross represented the cultivated world of the community through the symbol of a maize plant rising from the waters of the earth as the source of life.

Maize was not only the substance of human flesh, but it was the major cultigen of the Maya farmer. As the sustainer of life, and as a plant that could not seed itself without the intervention of humans, maize was an ultimate symbol of Maya social existence in communion with nature."

Linda Schele & David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, p. 243


Temple of the Foliated Cross detail from right side of tablet showing small muffled figure

"The small muffled figure is none other than the dead Pacal, the father of the king-to-be, who stands facing his child in the ritual that will make him king. Chan-Bahlum designed the inner scenes of the temples to represent places in Xibalba where he would meet his father and receive the power of the kingship from him directly.

In this portal Pacal is shown giving his son the Personified Bloodletter. This was the instrument of the bloodletting rite and the vision quest. It drew the blood of the king and brought on the trance that opened the portal and brought forth the gods from the Otherworld."

Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, p. 242

George Kubler notes that, in contrast to Chan-Bahlum, who appears at different ages in the three temples of the Cross Group, Pacal does not appear to age. The heavy mufflers and twisted cloth which hang down Pacal's back most likely represents burial clothing.

NOTE: What is meant by a personified bloodletter? In The Blood of Kings, Schele speaks about how ritual objects accumulated power. "In the Mayan system of imagery, this accrued power is depicted as a long-nosed personification head attached to objects. The personification head carries no specific inherent meaning beyond the concept of force. When it is attached to an object--a wristlet, an earflare or a cloth sash, for example--the personification head signals that these objects have accumulated sacred power."


Temple of the Foliated Cross, detail of God N emerging from his conch shell

In this detail from the previous page, God N, one of the Old Gods, is seen emerging from his conch shell. From his hands, a maize plant grows. Pacal stands on an ear of maize from that plant, represented by the head of the young corn god.

Schele & Miller, in The Blood of Kings, write that the glyphs identify the shell as the k'an hub, or precious shell, followed by Matawil, a supernatural location.


Maudslay drawing of sanctuary tablet from the Temple of the Foliated Cross

"The left-hand columns of text...record aspects of the Maya creation myth, the births of the First Mother and First Father and their three children, the three gods who were so closely linked to the power wielded by Maya rulers...The birth of the third diety, the god of royal dynasties, Bolon Tza'cab (God K) or GII, is recorded in the Temple of the Foliated Cross text. The Temple of the Cross also records the accession of the First Mother at the young age of 815 (in 2305 B.C.). According to the Temple of the Foliated Cross inscriptions, she then celebrated the end of the second katun of the current world by being the first to let blood, initiating the core ritual offering made by royalty thenceforth.

The right-hand columns of the panel texts record the ceremonies performed to dedicate these beautiful temples, over a period of four days during July, 690 (beginning on 9.12.18.5.1). The final inscriptions refer to rites Chan Bahlum himself conducted in 692 (9.12.19.14.12), the eighth anniversary of his inauguration as Palenque's ruler."

Robert Sharer, The Ancient Maya, p. 288