"An important and innovative study that brings a good number of fascinating archaeological findings to bear on the process of Christian conversion in the colonial Maya world. Seldom has the archaeological material culture of an evangelized society been brought to light so thoroughly and engagingly."--Fernando Cervantes, coauthor of Angels, Demons, and the New World
"A convincing and fascinating study of Maya religion and Christianity in the frontier."--Joel Palka, University of Illinois-Chicago
Based on her analysis of archaeological evidence from the excavations of Maya churches at Tipu and Lamanai, Elizabeth Graham seeks to understand why the Maya sometimes actively embraced Catholicism during the period of European conquest and continued to worship in this way even after the end of Spanish occupation.
The Maya in Belize appear to have continued to bury their dead in Christian churchyards long after the churches themselves had fallen into disuse. They also seem to have hidden pre-Hispanic objects of worship in Christian sacred spaces during times of persecution, and excavations reveal the style of the early churches to be unmistakably Franciscan. The evidence suggests that the Maya remained Christian after 1700, when Spaniards were no longer in control, which challenges the widespread assumption that because Christianity was imposed by force it was never properly assimilated by indigenous peoples.
Combining historical and archaeological data with her experience of having been raised as a Roman Catholic, Graham proposes a way of assessing the concept of religious experience and processes of conversion that takes into account the material, visual, sensual, and even olfactory manifestations of the sacred.
Elizabeth Graham is senior lecturer of Mesoamerican archaeology at University College London.
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"Intellectually stimulating, original in perspective, and engagingly written. Graham’s book makes a major contribution to Maya archaeology, colonial history, and cultural studies." The Americas 69:3
"a splendid achievement" Winterthur Portfolio