The Custom of Sacrificing the Heart and Offering It to the Gods


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, depicts a human sacrifice. An anonymous priest holding a spear presides over the sacrifice of a man whose heart is removed by an assistant. In the background, another assistant on the steps of a temple or pyramid holds an incense burner. The offering of the victim's heart to the gods satisfied the Aztec belief that the sun would rise again nourished by the hearts of men. The xochiyaoyotl (Flower Wars) were conducted to capture prisoners for the sacrificial offerings needed for the gods.

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Title in Original Language

Modo de sacrificar sacando el coraçón y dando con él en el rostro del ydolo; era el común

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Physical Description

Watercolor on paper ; 21 x 15.2 centimeters


  • Illustration from recto leaf 140

Last updated: October 26, 2012