Ancient Worship of the Cross in Mexico

During our recent trip to Mexico, we spent a few days in the city of Oaxaca and then went to Huatulco on the west coast of Oaxaca State. Huatulco in the Nahuatl language supposedly means “place where timber is adored” and is said to refer to the worship of a wooden cross by the native inhabitants of Huatulco (Zapotecs) before the Spaniards arrived. The English pirate Thomas Cavendish attacked the port in 1583 and tried to destroy the native cross that stood on the beach, but the cross was miraculously preserved. Spanish authorities later distributed portions of the sacred wooden cross to many other regions. One such place is the city of Oaxaca. A wooden cross taken from the holy cross of Huatulco is present in a side room at the Cathedral of Oaxaca, shown below in a photograph from our recent trip.

Side room in the Cathedral of Oaxaca with a wooden cross made from a portion of the original ancient wooden cross worshipped by Native Americans at Huatulco, Mexico.

One version of the legend, perhaps influenced by eager priests (the whole legend may be suspect, of course), attributes the worship of the cross to a visit from the Apostle Thomas. If there is anything to this legend, perhaps it could be compared to the significant role of the cross at Palenque as well. Did ancient inhabitants of Mexico know of the cross as a figure of religious significance?

As with legends of Quetzlcoatl, it may be hard to determine what parts of the legend truly reflect precolumbian beliefs and practices, but the legend of the wooden cross of Huatulco may be a story worth knowing about. Perhaps there is more than a sliver of truth to it.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

3 thoughts on “Ancient Worship of the Cross in Mexico

  1. If precolombians did worship the cross, that actually creates puzzles for the LDS perspective, doesn’t it? It’s hard to imagine our resurrected Savior introducing the idea of using the cross as a symbol of Himself if He doesn’t actually like that symbol (as would seem to be the case from Latter-day policy on the subject). I think this is one case where a Latter-day Saint traditionalist would want to hope that secular scholars can come up with a non-religious explanation.

  2. Any doctrine Christ happened to teach the people almost positively would not be around in the same form 1500 years later. The righteous people were killed out and replaced by those who did not belong to the Church. Just as during the apostasy in Europe, it would not be unlikely for this New World apostasy to incorporate outside beliefs with a twisted form of what their ancestors believed. Christ didn’t institute the symbol of the cross for his original church, but 1500 years later, what was being used in the Catholic church? Exactly. Why couldn’t it be the same for the Americas? Interesting findings Jeff.

  3. When I read the Book of Mormon in 1970 I was very impressed with it, it had a picture of this church of the Cross from Mexico in it at that time, but I have not seem one since then (37 years ago) Do you know where I could look up this picture or info on it?

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