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


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.


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.


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

On this panel, we see Chan-Bahlum facing God L across the doorway on the opposite panel.


A close-up view of Chan-Bahlum, courtesy of Kasper de Jonge and Jeroen Schoenmakers of the Netherlands. Thanks Kaspar and Jeroen!




"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