Esquipulas, southeast of Chiquimula, Guatemala houses the most important
Catholic shrine in Central America, the famed church of the Black Christ.
Nestled in a huge bowl-shaped valley, the town is surrounded by forested
hills in all directions. Archaeological evidence suggests that it predates
the Conquest as a place of pilgrimage.
Today, both religious Catholic Ladinos from every country in Central
and devout villagers from indigenous groups in Guatemala and Mexico make
pilgrimages to the site. These two disparate populations, however, do not
share the same ritual journey nor do they recount the history of Esquipulas
in the same way.
The Ladinos' experience is well known. Visitors concentrate on
lining up for hours in a serpentine path that will eventually lead them in
the prescribed orientation past the famed Black Christ. They commemorate
their pilgrimage by buying specific souvenirs.
Judi also presented the little known Ch'orti perceptions of the history,
construction and pilgrimage to the church at Equipulas. The Chorti,
although theyo visit the church, also stop and pray in a cave some distance
from the center of town. Their story of the construction of the church
describes a sequence of appeasements to a resident supernatural serpent.
Judith Storniolo is an Auxiliary Professor of Anthropology in the Department
of Culture and Communication at Drexel University. She has done field work
among the Chorti Maya in Guatemala and Honduras and among the Yucatec Maya
of Yucatan. She is pursuing a PhD in both Linguistics and Anthropology at
the University of Pennsylvania.
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