The grand pyramid stairs leading up to the Temple of the 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 GI, the first born of the Palenque triad, is associated with the Temple of the Cross. Human in aspect, he is distinguished from his brothers by a shell earflare, a square-eye, and a fish fin on his cheek. He is particularly associated with the imagery of the incense burner in the Early Classic period and as a mask worn by kings during rituals. GI often wears the Quadripartite Monster as his headdress and is associated with the Waterbird.

Linda Schele & David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, p. 413-14

Many magnificent incense burners have been found in caches in the platform of the Temple of the Cross (use your browser BACK button to return here). They have been restored and are now on display in the site museum.

"A number of different excavations of the basal platform of the Temples of the Cross and the Foliated Cross revealed a remarkable number of large and elaborately decorated ceramic stands that supported bowls use for the burning of incense. All show human or deity faces with complex headdresses and iconographic symbolism...

Once lined up along the terraces of the three temples, mostly facing to the west, the censers reveal that the platforms and terraces of Maya pyramids could often be accessible and important ceremonial locales in their own right."

David Stuart & George Stuart, Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya, p. 195-196

The Temple of the Inscriptions has lost all its front wall & most of its mansard roof

Unfortunately, the whole front wall and much of the forward part of the mansard roof have fallen, exposing what had been the great interior chamber. Originally, the Temple of the Cross looked much like the Temple of the Sun does today.

God L, an important god of Xibalba, smokes his cigar & looks toward Chan Bahlam

On this panel, we see God L, one of the most important gods of Xibalba, facing Chan-Bahlum who appears across the doorway on the opposite panel.

"God L, one of the most important gods of Xibalba, has evidently guided Chan-Bahlum out of the Otherworld and back into the light of life. Finally, the text behind Chan-Bahlum on the Tablet of the Cross puts a period to the historical proceedings by recording the three-day-long dedication rites for the completion of this monumental group on July 23, 690.

God L is one of the aged gods who appear principally in scenes of Xibalba [the Underworld]. He is frail and bent with age, wrinkled in feature, and has a huge nose overlapping a toothless mouth. He is a smoker, preferring huge cigars or smaller cigarettes. His most important costume element is a headdress in the form of the mythological bird named Oxlahun Chan (13 Sky). He has a house in the Otherworld, where he is attended by the beautiful young goddesses who personify the number two. His rule of Xibalba is chronicled by a rabbit scribe. He is also the god who presided over the assemblage of gods when the cosmos was ordered on 4 Ahau 8 Cumku. "

Linda Schele & David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, p. 410-11.

Chan-Bahlum faces God L across the doorway from the opposite panel

Temple of the Cross [Photo by Tom Canavan: January 1, 2004]

A close-up view of the Chan_Bahlum portrait

Photo courtesy of Kasper de Jonge and Jeroen Schoenmakers of the Netherlands. Thanks Kaspar and Jeroen!

A much less stylized and more realistic portrait of Chan Bahlum is on display in the Palenque Site Museum.

A view past the entrance panels to the back panel text

Detail of back wall panel showing the earth monster who supports the World Tree

Alfred Maudslay's photograph of the middle-right part of the Temple panel

Maudslay's photo of the center right portion of the back panel of the Tempe of the Cross

From the Maudslay Collection, British Museum. Used with permission under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 non-commercial license. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Alfred Maudslay describes the condition of the sanctuary as: "The inscribed panel let into the back wall of the Sanctuary is formed of three slabs of stone. The right-hand slab is now in the National Museum at Washington, the centre slab is in the Museum in the city of Mexico, and the left-hand only is still in place.

In the western inner chamber is a block of masonry built against the back wall which may have been used as an altar.

There are several T-shaped holes in the walls, and on the north side of the inner corridor are several small holes pierced through the top of the roof as though intended for the escape of smoke."

Maudslay goes on to complain: "It is probable that the sanctuary was formerly paved with stone flags, but it is now a yawning hole, the work of Antonio del Rio, or of some more recent treasure-hunter, and nearly every building in the place has suffered in the same way."

A.P. Maudslay. Biologia Centrali-Americana: Archaeology. Dulau & Co. London, 1889-1902: Palenque, p. 29.

Alfred Maudslay's 1890-91 drawing of the back panel of the Temple of the Cross

"The central icon at the portal of each of the three temples in the Group of the Cross specified the nature of the cosmic power and community responsibility that defined kingship for that temple.

At the portal of the Temple of the Cross, we see a variant of the World Tree. This cross-shaped Tree, with the Serpent Bar of kingship entwined in its branches and the Celestial Bird standing on its crown, was the central axis of the cosmos [the Milky Way galaxy].

Along this axis rose and descended the souls of the dead and the gods called from the Otherworld by the vision rite to talk to human beings. It was the path the Cosmic Monster took as the sun and Venus moved through its body on their daily journeys.

The king himself was the worldly manifestation of this axis, and this emphasized his role as the source of magical power. He was not only the primary practitioner of the rituals that contacted the Otherworld: he was the pathway itself.

In this portal the dead Pacal gives his son a scepter in the form of the monster that rests at the base of the World Tree--the same sun-marked monster that bore Pacal to Xibalba. Chan-Bahlum wields a disembodied head as an instrument of power, as had the Early Classic kings of Tikal and other kings before him."

Linda Schele & David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, p. 242-3

The masively terraced platform which supports the Temple of the Cross

In 1890, Alfred Maudslay wrote: "This building stands on a very hight foundation mound and faces the south. About two-thirds of the distance up the slope, at the south-west angle of the foundation mound, are several sepulchral chambers which had already been opened. In one of these is a sort of stone coffin, the sides and ends formed of well-cut slabs. The contents had been rifled and only a few flakes of jadeite had been overlooked. The bottom and sides of the coffin were covered with a dark red powder."

A.P. Maudslay. Biologia Centrali-Americana: Archaeology. Dulau & Co. London, 1889-1902: Palenque, p. 27.

In a 2008 update, Martin & Grube continued the story: "Kan Bahlam II died at the age of 66 on 16 February 702 and was buried the same day. While his mortuary shrine has yet to be identified, attention has focused on the Temple of the Cross, the largest of the group. In 1993 a consolidation programme by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia cleared its supporting pyramid, revealing a dedicatory cache of well over 100 ceramic effigy incense-burners spaced out around each tier of the modified hillside that forms its base. These evocative terracotta images of fire gods were a particular innovation of his reign. Although a number of intrusive burials were also uncovered in the pyramid, the main prize, the tomb of Kan Bahlam himself, has thus far eluded investigators."

Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya King and Queens. Thanmes & Hudson, 2nd Edition, 2008, p. 170