Nunnery Quadrangle

The main entrance to the nunnery is through a gateway placed in the centre of the southern part of the quadrangle. Upon each side of this entrance there are four chambers, and it is to be noticed, as an evidence of the conventual character of the building, that these are the only rooms that have direct access to the outer world. All the others are within and look into the court. They had a blank wall at the back, which excluded all communication with the exterior. The principal front looks towards the pyramids adjoining the Casa del Gobernador. The architectural proportions of the archway are symmetrical. The height and span, like all other parts of these Indian structures, are practically determined by the angle of inclination of the converging sides. In this case the arch is about seventeen feet high and nearly eleven feet wide. After passing through it, a wide court is entered. It is surrounded on four sides by long ranges of low stone buildings. The base, or lower part of them, is built of plain square slabs of masonry. The upper parts are covered with fanciful designs, sculptured with great skill.

The whole of these buildings are exclusively arranged for the purpose of providing the greatest possible number of chambers or monastic cells. I did not count them, but it has been stated that there are altogether eighty-eight. It is perhaps important to note, with reference to this unusual number of rooms, that they are too numerous to admit of the theory that they were intended for the accommodation of the priests serving the adjacent temples, for according to the statements of Clavigero, the number of priests always corresponded with the number of the Teocallis. It is therefore presumable that these cells had some other purpose. The priests may have been lodged in the Casa del Gobernador. That building contains twenty-four chambers, the majority of which are of the same size and plan as these in the Casa de las Monjas. It is useless to attempt to conjecture the precise purposes of these buildings, for there has been no exact information obtained upon the subject, but everything points to the conclusion that the whole of the structures at Uxmal were connected with the worship of the gods, and had no relation to the ordinary lives of the Indians.

“The whole of the façades of the nunnery are elaborately sculptured, and the mechanical abilities of the builders are well brought into notice.”

It is probable that places like Uxmal and Palenque with their temples and monasteries, were set apart for religious purposes, and the Indians assembled there from the adjacent country with the object of being present at the ceremonies, in the same manner as they are now accustomed to perform their pilgrimages when the patron saints of the churches have their festivals. When taking into consideration the question of the period when it may be conjectured that the temples at Uxmal were abandoned, it is necessary to direct attention to the design or emblem which is placed upon one of the walls of the interior of the Casa de las Monjas.

Upon an examination of the accompanying illustration, it will be observed that the figure represented is that of a huge serpent or rattlesnake. A serpent was also the emblem or Totem of one of the tribes of the Mound Builders in Ohio, and there appear to be singular resemblances between the reptile carved in stone at Uxmal and that which is rudely made of earth and stones, and placed on high ground overlooking a valley in North America. Both reptiles have peculiarly large mouths, opened wide, ready to devour and swallow their prey or their enemies.

It is perhaps not unreasonable to infer that the tribe who migrated from the north, conquered the unwarlike natives of Yucatan, raised the great pyramids, and built the temples in that region, were subsequently conquered by a more powerful tribe of the same race, also migrating from higher latitudes. The former tribe were forced to desert their buildings, and avoided slavery or extermination by escaping into the interior. The serpent stands out in bold relief. The whole of the façades of the nunnery are elaborately sculptured, and the mechanical abilities of the builders are well brought into notice.

Published by Brett Porter

Comms. guy with a passion for public policy and responsible corporate governance. Conservation advocate. Plant person.