Pascual Abaj, Chichicastenango, Guatemala

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A Maya priest performing a ritual for Pascual Abaj, an ancient carved stone still venerated in the hills nearby the city of Chichicastenango.

Santo Tomás Chichicastenango is probably one of the major tourist destination in Guatemala after Antigua and Tikal. This large indigenous town lies on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 m (6,447 ft). It is located about 140 km (87 mi) northwest of Guatemala City.

Its market taking place on Thursdays and Sundays is certainly the reason most visitors come to this place. It is a good opportunity to see vendors sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime stones for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools. In the central part of the market plaza are small eateries (comedores).

Next to the market is the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás. It is built atop a Pre-Columbian temple platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilization remain venerated. K’iche’ Maya priests still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Maya calendar year.

Another key element of Chichicastenango is the Cofradia of Pascual Abaj, which is an ancient carved stone venerated nearby and the Maya priests perform several rituals there. Writing on the stone records the doings of a king named Tohil (Fate).

After visiting the town, the market and the church, we went to see the little statue of Pascual Abaj on the hills. Nowadays, foreigners are not allowed to enter the church anymore – I remember lots of incense, people praying to their gods, next to the cross. Very intense.

Pascual Abaj is located on the hills, a couple of kilometers from the town. As we arrived, two priests were burning incense, praying, preparing for the sacrifice of a chicken, while moving around.  I asked in Spanish if it would be ok to take a few pictures, and the guy replied in fluent English “No problem” — we soon learned that he had been working in the States for a few years before returning to his home town.

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