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The Cult of the Talking Cross

During the nineteenth century the subject Maya population of the Yucatan revolted against the ladino overlords who kept them in servitude. The conflict, known as the Caste War of the Yucatan, began in earnest with the massacre of the ladino population of Valladolid. Soon the Maya had nearly succeeded in driving the non-Maya out of the peninsula, driving them back to one final refuge, the city of Merida in the north of the peninsula. However, the Maya abandoned their seige of the city when the season for planting corn came. That allowed the ladinos to bring in new troops. A standoff resulted, in which for decades the ladinos controlled the drier north and west of the peninsula while the Maya controlled the hotter and wetter south and east.

In that jungle setting the Maya began the worship of a Talking Cross. The cross was originally found at a small spring or cenote (it is said that there were actually several talking crosses, but this is the most famous and hisorically important). The miracle of its speech inspired the Maya resistance. In time a large church, called the Balam Na, was built (partly with captive labor), and the talking cross was relocated there. From this jungle refuge, known as Chan Santa Cruz or the Little Sacred Cross, the Maya operated more or less autonomously (with the help of arms from the British located across the Rio Hondo in British Honduras, now Belize) until the early years of the twentieth century. When the town was finally taken, a hiding place was found near the cross where a ventriloquist could have been installed, his voice amplified by a barrel aparatus.

Chan Santa Cruz is now known as Felipe Carrillo Puetro (named after a twentieth-century Yucatecan patriot leader). The following pictures where taken in February 2007. (Click through to see larger versions at flickr.com.)

The Talking Cross first revealed itself at a small spring that sustained the community of Chan Santa Cruz. Located in present Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the spring is today a small park, or "sanctuary."


the spring of the talking cross

The original spring that gave birth to the Talking Cross.


students by the spring of the cross

Today the park where the spring is located is frequented by students. This pair seemed to like the idea of having their picture taken when I asked, but they didn't seem comfortable looking toward the camera.


the balam na

After a time the Talking Cross was moved to a large church that was constructed partly with captive labor. The church was called by the Maya the Balam Na. How much does the current church resemble the original one? I read conflicting accounts, and I'm still trying to find a definitive answer.     

The front of the Balam Na. Towers were planned for the corners, but never completed. A large Tree of Life (Yaxche) stood in front of the church during the period of the Caste War.


interior of the balam na

The interior of the church. From the altar the Talking Cross delivered its fiery pronouncements to the rebel congregation.


side view of the balam na

Side detail of the Balam Na, showing its fortresslike construction.






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