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CHAPTER IX. .
Journey continued.-Barrancas.—Tecpan Guatimala.-A noble Church.-A sacred Stone.—The ancient City.-Description of the Ruins.-A Molina.-Another Earthquake.-Patzum.-A Ravine.-Fortifications. -Los Altos. — Godines. -Losing a good Friend.-Magnificent Scenery.-San Antonio.-Lake of Ati. tan.
In the morning the major-domo furnished us with fine horses, and we started early. Almost immediately we commenced ascending the other side of the ravine which we had descended the night before, and on the top entered on a continuation of the same beautiful and extensive table-land. On one side, for some distance, were. high hedge fences, in which aloes were growing, and in one place were four in full bloom. In an hour we arri. ved at Patzum, a large Indian village. Here we turned off to the right from the high road to Mexico by a sort of by-path ; but the country was beautiful, and in parts well cultivated. The morning was bracing, and the climate like our own in October. The immense tableland was elevated some five or six thousand feet, but none of these heights have ever been taken. We passed on the right two mounds, such as are seen all over our own country, and on the left an immense barranca. The table was level to the very edge, where the earth seemed to have broken off and sunk, and we looked down into a frightful abyss two or three thousand feet deep. Gigantic trees at the bottom of the immense cavity looked like shrubs. At some distance beyond we passed a second of these immense barrancas, and in an hour and a half reached the Indian village of Tec
TECPAN GUATIMAL A.
pan Guatimala. For some distance before reaching it the road was shaded by trees and shrubs, among which were aloes thirty feet high. The long street by which we entered was paved with stones from the ruins of the old city, and filled with drunken Indians; and rushing across it was one with his arms around a woman's neck. At the head of this street was a fine plaza, with a large cabildo, and twenty or thirty Indian alguazils under the corridor, with wands of office in their hands, silent, in full suits of blue cloth, the trousers open at the knees, and cloak with a hood like the Arab burnouse. Adjoining this was the large courtyard of the church, paved with stone, and the church itself was one of the most magnificent in the country. It was the second built after the conquest. The façade was two hundred feet, very lofty, with turrets and spires gorgeously ornamented with stuccoed figures, and a high platform, on which were Indians, the first we had seen in picturesque costume; and with the widely-extended view of the country around, it was a scene of wild magnificence in nature and in art. We stopped involuntarily; and while the Indians, in mute astonishment, gazed at us, we were lost in surprise and admiration. As usual, Don Saturnino was the pioneer, and we rode up to the house of the padre, where we were shown into a small room, with the window closed and a ray of light admitted from the door, in which the padre was dozing in a large chair. Before he had fairly opened his eyes, Don Saturnino told him that we had come to visit the ruins of the old city, and wanted a guide, and thrust into his hands Carrera's passport and the letter of the provesor. The padre was old, fat, rich, and infirm, had been thirtyfive years cura of Tecpan Guatimala, and was not used to doing things in a hurry; but our friend, knowing the particular objects of our visit, with great earnestness and haste told the padre that the minister of New York had heard in his country of a remarkable stone, and the provesor and Carrera were anxious for him to see it. The padre said that it was in the church, and lay on the top of the grand altar ; the cup of the sacrament stood upon it; it was covered up, and very sacred ; he had never seen it, and he was evidently unwilling to let.us see it, but said he would endeavour to do so when we returned from the ruins. He sent for a guide, and we went out to the courtyard of the church; and while Mr. Catherwood was attempting a sketch, I walked up the steps. The interior was lofty, spacious, richly ornamented with stuccoed figures and paintings, dark and solemn, and in the distance was the grand altar, with long wax candles burning upon it, and Indians kneeling before it. At the door a man stopped me, and said that I must not enter with sword and spurs, and even that I must take off my boots. I would have done so, but saw that the Indians did not like a stranger going into their church. They were evidently entirely unaccustomed to the sight of strangers, and Mr. Catherwood was so annoyed by their gathering round him that he gave up his drawing; and fearing it would be worse on our return, I told Don Saturnino that we must make an effort to see the stone now. Don Saturnino had a great respect for the priests and the Church. He was not a fanatic, but he thought a powerful religious influence good for the Indians. Nevertheless, he said we ought to see it; and we went back in a body to the padre, and Don Saturnino told him that we were anxious to see the stone now, to prevent delay on our return. The good padre's heavy body was troubled. He asked for the provesor's letter again, read it over, A SACRED STONE.
went out on the corridor and consulted with a brother about as old and round as himself, and at length told us to wait in that room and he would bring it. As he went out he ordered all the Indians in the courtyard, about forty or fifty, to go to the cabildo and tell the alcalde to send the guide. In a few minutes he returned, and opening with some trepidation the folds of his large gown, produced the stone.
Fuentes, in speaking of the old city, says, “ To the westward of the city there is a little mount that com. mands it, on which stands a small round building about six feet in height, in the middle of which there is a ped. estal formed of a shining substance resembling glass, but the precise quality of which has not been ascertain. ed. Seated around this building, the judges heard and decided the causes brought before them, and their sen. tences were executed upon the spot. Previous to executing them, however, it was necessary to have them confirmed by the oracle, for which purpose three of the judges left their seats and proceeded to a deep ravine, where there was a place of worship containing a black transparent stone, on the surface of which the Deity was supposed to indicate the fate of the criminal. If the decision was approved, the sentence was executed immediately; if nothing appeared on the stone, the accused was set at liberty. This oracle was also consulted in the affairs of war. The Bishop Francisco Marroquin having obtained intelligence of this slab, ordered it to be cut square, and consecrated it for the top of the grand altar in the Church of Tecpan Guatimala. It is a stone of singular beauty, about a yard and a half each way.” The “ Modern Traveller” refers to it as an “interesting specimen of ancient art;" and in 1825 concludes, " we may hope, before long, to
receive some more distinct account of this oracular stone."
The world-meaning thereby the two classes into which an author once divided it, of subscribers and non-subscribers to his work—the world that reads these pages is indebted to Don Saturnino for some additional information. The stone was sewed up in a piece of cotton cloth drawn tight, which looked certainly as old as the thirty-five years it had been under the cura's charge, and probably was the same covering in which it was enveloped when first laid on the top of the altar. One or two stitches were cut in the middle, and this was perhaps all we should have seen; but Don Saturnino, with a hurried jargon of “strange, curious, sacred, incomprehensible, the provesor's letter, minister of NewYork,” &c., whipped out his penknife, and the good old padre, heavy with agitation and his own weight, sunk into his chair, still holding on with both hands. Don Saturnino ripped till he almost cut the good old man's fingers, slipped out the sacred tablet, and left the sack in the padre's hands. The padre sat a picture of self-abandonment, helplessness, distress, and self-reproach. We moved toward the light, and Don Saturnino, with a twinkle of his eyes and a ludicrous earnestness, consummated the padre's fear and horror by scratching the sacred stone with his knife. This oracular slab is a piece of common slate, fourteen inches by ten, and about as thick as those used by boys at school, without characters of any kind upon it. With a strong: predilection for the marvellous, and scratching it most irreverently, we could make nothing more out of it. Don Saturnino handed it back to the padre, and told him that he had better sew it up and put it back; and probably it is now in its place on the top of the grand altar,