Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sun January 24 2016

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | January 24, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    In the Aura of Ixchel: Cozumel’s San Gervasio Ruins

    In the Aura of Ixchel: Cozumel’s San Gervasio Ruins

    Photos courtesy of Thinkstock

    As a frequent visitor to Latin America, I enjoy discovering the breadth of influence that the ancient Maya had on the region. One of the things that excited me most about visiting the island of Cozumel off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was the chance to explore the Mayan goddess Ixchel's shrine at San Gervasio.

    Illustrations of Ixchel — a deity of love, childbirth and weaving — appear on many Latin Mesoamerican works of art, and I was interested in learning more about her.

    Ixchel’s 2,000-year-old shrine covers 125 acres in the Cozumel rain forest, and our authoritative guide Mimi expertly explained the intricacies of ancient Mayan culture while leading us through the ruins.

    READ MORE: Carnival Adds Third Cruise Ship Berth to Cozumel Pier

    San Gervasio is the biggest archaeological site in Cozumel, located in the center of the island. Although she is connected with most things female and creative, Ixchel is mainly the Mayan goddess of the moon and fertility. Women made the pilgrimage to the shrine from as far away as what is now Belize and Guatemala to ensure they birthed the average 18 kids expected of a Mayan woman. Many statues dedicated to Ixchel are still being unearthed in places throughout the shrine.

    Although it’s not as touristy or as excavated, San Gervasio is a much more significant site than the more popular Tulum, which only served as a watchpost.

    The structures were created from a mixture of stucco, honey, gum and crushed shells. Temples typically boasted a sauna and a steam bath with hot rocks so followers could purify themselves by sweating, praying and meditating. The steps to the shrines are very small, forcing worshipers to walk sideways so as not to look the priest in the face, which is a sign of disrespect. I had a hard time fitting my size 10 sandals over the steps in any direction so I had to climb very slowly.

    One of the most striking parts of the ruins is the entrance to the nine-mile road called Sac Bey or white road, that they Maya took to reach the shrines. They would walk by moonlight when it was cooler, leaving their canoes back at the end of the road. The arch is about five feet tall and dates from between 1200-1650 A.D.

    READ MORE: Ancient Mayan Ruin Certified at Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya

    The Maya cut the limestone rocks using onyx knives. The innovation and details of these shrines and altars still remain, thousands of years later. Examining the rocks up close, some were crumbling but most still felt solid after all that time.

    An aura of the sacred hovers around the site and Mexican women still make pilgrimages to Ixchel’s shrine. In a little box in front of the shrine, we saw flowers, coins and incense left as offerings to the goddess. They say that Cozumel retains something in the water and that couples routinely return home pregnant. I don't know about that but I was happy to pay my respects to Ixchel.


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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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