The Temple to the Aztec God Huitzilopochtli


The Tovar Codex, attributed to the 16th-century Mexican Jesuit Juan de Tovar, contains detailed information about the rites and ceremonies of the Aztecs (also known as Mexica). The codex is illustrated with 51 full-page paintings in watercolor. Strongly influenced by pre-contact pictographic manuscripts, the paintings are of exceptional artistic quality. The manuscript is divided into three sections. The first section is a history of the travels of the Aztecs prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The second section, an illustrated history of the Aztecs, forms the main body of the manuscript. The third section contains the Tovar calendar. This illustration, from the second section, shows (at left) a temple or pyramid surmounted by the images of two gods flanked by native Mexicans. On the temple is an image of Huitzilopochtli on the right, and an image of Tlaloc holding a turquoise serpent is on the left. The temple is surrounded by a wall of serpents swallowing one another's heads. At right is a tzompantli (Aztec skull rack). Huitzilopochtli, whose name means "Blue hummingbird on the left," was the Aztec god of the sun and war. The xiuhcoatl (turquoise or fire serpent) was his mystical weapon. Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture, was of pre-Aztec, or Toltec, origin. A coatepantli (wall made of sculpted serpents) often surrounds Aztec temples. The tzompantli would hold the skulls of sacrificial victims. The great temple at Tenochtitlan was surmounted by two sanctuaries—the one on the left dedicated to Tlaloc, the one on the right to Huitzilopochtli.

Last updated: June 18, 2015