Home » Pieces to the Puzzle: How the Castillo and Mother Church Work Urbanistically

Pieces to the Puzzle: How the Castillo and Mother Church Work Urbanistically

The role of the city is to be the center of economic, political, and cultural movement. Cities have a dense population compared to the area, so careful planning must go into its development. In the U. S. alone, 55% of the population lives in cities with more than 1,000,000 people, 78% in cities with more than 100,000, and less that 3% live in agricultural areas (Angotti, Tomas. 1993). Since it is so crucial for a city with countless numbers of inhabitants to work properly, there has to be certain building types to facilitate the lives of the people. One of the most important building types is the temple.

Temples through out time usually work very similarly urbanistically in the sense that they are centers of religious practice and located in key areas. A temple is a symbol of the culture; it represents the people’s beliefs and how devoted they are to them. Temples have usually been elaborate and large scale; examples of this include the Temple of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza, Mexico, and the Mother Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The Temple of Kukulkan and the Mother Church in Boston are strikingly similar in many ways, including architecturally and how they are used by the people of the city.

Chichen Itza was once one of the most powerful kingdoms of pre-Columbian America. In the time between the end of the Classic and beginning of Post-Classic period of Mayan history, around 800c. e. to 1100c. e, it was an important city for local politics, religion, and trade and was crucial to the Mesoamerican social structure. Since this city was so constantly populated, it had to be intricately designed. In order for this complex city to work, careful planning and organization had to go into the urban development in order to make this culturally diverse society. The history of Chichen Itza is quite unique when compared to other Mayan cities.

Its architectural influences come from two different sources. Chichen Itza began in the Middle to Late Classic period when some of its Puuc and early Maya structures were built. The Puuc architectural style came from the hilly region west of Chichen Itza, and consisted of buildings with different proportions and construction than the future buildings in the north of Chichen Itza. Puuc buildings have rubble-filled concrete walls faced by a thin veneer of dressed stone. The exterior walls have plain lower facades supporting upper facades decorated with religious masks and geometric designs.

Constructed of individually carved pieces fitted together to form a design, Puuc sculpture resembles a mosaic. The low relief stone and wood sculptured door lintels and columns resemble human figures. While older structures of southern Chichen Itza were of Puuc influence, the later built buildings of the north were of Toltec planning. Toltec elements at Chichen Itza include stepped-pyramid temples, long colonnades, atlantean figures used as structural supports, low detached platforms faced with carved panels, and doorways formed by twin descending feathered serpent columns.

The result of the Toltec influence from central Mexico created architectural hybrid, known as Toltec-Maya architecture, that gave Chichen Itza a very unique distinction from other Maya ruins. This architectural convergence was a result of a Toltec invasion of the Maya in the 9th century. The Toltec were violent warriors who came from the high lands of central Mexico and invaded the Yucatan peninsula. While the Toltec were a notoriously violent tribe, they conquered Chichen Itza, but did not kill the survivors of the siege.

This led to a cultural combination with unique qualities in art, architecture, and religion. The Toltec brought with them agricultural and astronomical knowledge, ball courts, artistic and architectural influences, and the worship of their feathered-serpent god Kukulkan, which was known as Quetzalcoatl before the invasion. The cult of Kukulkan introduced human sacrifice to the Maya and their strong faith led to the massive temple of Kukulkan, also known as el Castillo, or the Castle.

Chichen Itza is not a very large city compared to other capitals. With dimensions of 6. 5 by 3. m, the area was used more as a sacred ground than as a commercial or residential area. Early settlers arrived to Chichen Itza probably attracted by the two dozen deep, natural wells called cenotes. One of these cenotes came to be known as “the sacred cenote” as sacrificial human remains as well as religious offerings have been found. The use of the sacred cenote was purely religious as water could be taken from any of the other cenotes in the area. The city itself was contained behind a high wall with an irregular polygonal shape with entrances at the four cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west.

The buildings were widely spread along a consistent 17 east of north, common in many Mexican sites. The openness inside the city walls placed much emphasis on the connection between man and the sky, as opposed to the worshipping the earth as other religious complexes. A new concept in religion replaced the earth gods with celestial worship of the sun, moon, and stars; consequently buildings and courts are open to the heavens for more effective mass communication between the gods and men. (Weaver, Muriel Porter. 1981) The main temple of Chichen Itza is the Castillo, dedicated to the god Kukulkan.

The temple is located in the center of a large clearing in northern, or Toltec, Chichen Itza. The pyramid was built on top of an older pyramid, very similar in design. It was built with nine stages and a single staircase, and has a profile resembling that of Puuc structures and a temple with twin chambers on top. The temple is decorated in relief with a procession of jaguars prowling beneath a row of shields. Inside the temple, two famous artifacts were discovered; one being the Red Throne Jaguar and the other a sacrificial Chac-Mool figure.

The jaguar is carved out of stone with a flat back to serve as a seat or place of offerings, painted bright red with 73 jade disks making a spotted pattern, jade eyes, and fangs made of sea shells and was probably the throne of the high priest. The Chac-Mool is found in many places in Chichen Itza, but it is not certain what their purpose was, though it is believed to be used as a place for sacrifices or offerings to the gods. The inner structure of the temple of Kukulkan was probably one of the earliest erected by the Toltec in the Yucatan Peninsula.

It is an excellent example of the religious custom of superposing one monument above the previous one at the end of a cycle of 52 years. (Weaver, Muriel Porter. 1981) . A new temple was built right over the old one. This magnificent temple was built to show the adoration of Kukulkan and it showed off the religious and political power of Chichen Itza. It reached towards the sky, it was a landmark clearly visible from anywhere through the thick jungle of Yucatan. The new pyramid’s square base measure 55. eters on each side and rises 24 meters high.

There are nine different levels each with sloping walls whose facades are decorated with a rectangle motif. Each side has massive adorned monumental stairs. The principal stairway facing the north is decorated with the feathered serpent god Kukulkan on each side of the stair with huge snake-heads reaching the ground. There are 91 steps on each stair, and the four stairs add up to 364 steps. Counting the step leading to the temple there are 365 steps, the same amount of days in a solar year.

According to Arqueologia Mexicana, a Mexican archeology magazine, the problem when the number of steps caused such debate about counting the step to the temple as a calendrical symbol and in actuality some investigators have suggested that the coincidences are owed more to the hand of the restorer than the intention of the Maya builder. (Castillo, Agustin Pena. 1998) The entrance to the sanctuary faces north and has a portico divided into three doors by two columns carved to look like plumed snakes, the symbol of Kukulkan.

The head served as the base, the body as the shaft, and the tail as the capital. Inside the temple there are corbelled vaults sculptured with richly dressed warrior figures. The portico gives access to a narrow gallery that surrounds the temple with doorways facing the other three stairways. The facade is adorned with a mask of the rain god Chac above the doorway and a plain frieze with square triglyphs and metopes. The architrave and cornice are both simple and geometrically decorative. (Castillo, Agustin Pena. 1998). The use of el Castillo and the surrounding area was purely ceremonial.

The pyramid rises in lonely splendor from an immense clearing. Thousands could have gathered on every side to share the spectacle of the music, fires, and processions and to hear the voices of the gods. (Weaver, Muriel Porter. 1981) One of these ceremonies was a representation of the coming of Kukulkan. The pyramid was so accurately directed that during the spring and fall equinoxes, March 21 and September 22, the inclination of the sun’s rays on the staircase’s border and corner of the temple created a magical effect.

As the sun moves across the sky, it leaves the northern side of the pyramid in total darkness, except for the corners of each level shining on the staircase border leaving a diamond pattern. As the day continues, the lit pattern makes its way down the pyramid until reaching the snake head. At that point the entire north side of the pyramid is dark except for a diamond back snake extending from the temple all the way to the snake head on the floor. As the day comes to an end, the snake retreats back into its temple. This coming of Kukulkan was a very important event to the people of Chichen Itza.

It was a celebration of the arrival of their god to which sacrifices were made as thousands attended this cult festival. Another architectural marvel of this building is that on the vernal and winter solstices during sunset the sun shines at the exact angle that only half the pyramid is lit, and the other in the shadows. (Cano, Olga. 2002)     It is here that the astronomical and architectural skepticism begins. With such exact natural engineering, it is very possible that all of the numerology of the pyramid was designed to match the Maya calendar, but one can not credit the Maya architects due to lack of concrete evidence.

It is very peculiar though that there are 91 days between each of these astronomic and religious events, and 92 days between the June 21 summer solstice and the September 21 equinox. This leads to the fact that all the numbers adds up to a 365 day solar year with the 91 days between each event matching the 91 steps to each side of the pyramid. Another coincidence is the fact that each side of the pyramid is faced with 52 stone slabs, which is the same as the number of years in the calendar cycle of the sun year (Helefritz, Hans. 1968) The Temple of Kukulkan also serves as a spatial indicator.

The huge temple is in the center of northern Chichen Itza, which is reserved for spiritual structures. It accompanies the Temple of the Warriors, the Venus Platform, the Ball court, the Tzompantli, and some smaller temples. The Temple of the Warriors is a temple dedicated to those who give their lives to protect the faith of Kukulkan and Chichen Itza from invaders and maintain its regional power. This temple is supposed to give strength and invulnerability to the warriors as Kukulkan protects them for giving him sacrificial offerings.

The Venus Platform is a place to observe and worship Venus, which is where according to legend, Kukulkan came from. The Ball Court was not used as a recreational pastime; instead it served as a sign of the most powerfully divine men. Teams would compete in order to settle political differences or as an offering to the gods, where the losing team’s leader would often be sacrificed by the hands of the victorious team’s captain. Any person sacrificed, as a result of losing a game or as a ceremonial offering to Kukulkan, would be represented as a carved skull on the Tzompantli.

The Tzompantli is where human sacrifices took place and was designed to strike fear in opposing tribes and display the power of Kukulkan by showing the amounts of people killed in his honor. The Tzompantli of Chichen Itza is one of the largest in Mesoamerica (Cano, Olga. 2002). Other important buildings in Chichen Itza include el Caracol, used as an observatory to study the skies, the Group of a Thousand Columns, a colonnade enclosed plaza used as an agora or forum, and el Mercado, the marketplace and center of trade of Chichen Itza. The Castillo of Chichen Itza was the most important structure in the city.

It had many purposes that were served by only one building instead of many. It was used as a calendrical instrument to display when the perfect times for harvesting were and kept track of the suns movements. It was also a beacon of the faith of the city, illustrating its military power and religious territory. The more massive the construction meant the more faith the people had in their god, and their willingness to defend it. It was the ultimate sign of power, showing the strength of the Itza and their ability to over-rule the opposition. Boston, Massachusetts has always been an important city.

Ever since the 1700’s, Boston has been a center of culture, art, and freedom. Boston has always preserved individuals’ freedom, especially religiously. There have always been many different religions in Boston, and even if they had opposing thoughts, they were free to practice. There are many important churches, such as the Trinity Church, Saint Mary’s Church, or Saint John’s Episcopal Church, but the most dominant of all is The Mother Church, also known as The First Church of Christ, Scientist. Intermeshed between skyscrapers and stores, the Mother Church is a symbol of peace in the middle of the hectic city scene of Boston.

The Mother Church, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, was the first church devoted to the belief of Christian Science and since its completion about 2,000 branches have started around the world. The church is located on the 14-acre Christian Center Plaza, and is the international headquarters of Christian Scientists. The Mother Church consists of a Romanesque Original Church Edifice with bell towers and stained glass windows constructed in 1894 with a bell tower and stained glass windows facing the reflection pool, and the larger extension built in 1906.

The extension, which is of Renaissance and Byzantine architecture, faces Massachusetts Avenue (Anonymous, “The First Church of Christ, Scientist”). The original Mother Church was built by Franklin I. Welch from Melrose, MA, and was designed to seat 900 people. It was built on two levels on a triangular plot of land, constructed out of granite from New Hampshire. The walls are decorated with stained glass windows and scriptures in golden lettering on the walls are quoted from the King James Bible and from Mary Baker Eddy, who selected the quotations.

Anonymous. “Architecture- The Mother Church”). While the original church was impressive, it does not compare to the “mammoth” addition constructed in 1906 (Southworth, Michael and Susan. 1992). The addition is what made this church so monumental. As it has always been in history, the more massive the temple shows how much faith the people have in that religion. The architects of the extension are Charles Brigham and Charles Conevey from Boston and Solon Beman of Chicago.

It only took 23 months to finish the construction and it cost around $2,000,000, a quite different cost from the original church which was ten times less. The church was built of Indiana limestone on a half acre of land, the sanctuary being on the second floor. It was built in a combination of Byzantine and Renaissance architecture. The most noticeable piece of this building is the enormous dome, rising 224 feet, resembling St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Williams, Peter W. 1997). The church did not become a public plaza space until the complex was built in 1973 by I.

M. Pei & Partners and Araldo Cossutta Associated Architects. The complex is composed of a 26 story Administration building, the Colonnade building, the Sunday School, and the reflecting pool, all of which are located over an underground parking lot (Anonymous. “Architecture- The Mother Church Extension”). The construction of the Christian Science Center was part of Boston’s urban renewal process. Massachusetts Avenue is a street situated in the heart of the city, and is an active commercial center. One would think it is impossible to have an open space on Mass.

Ave, but “The most monumental public space in Boston has been created in the Christian Science complex” (Southworth, Michael and Susan. 1992). The complex has created an enormous open space right in the center of Boston, creating a pleasant scenario and making it more easy to admire the great buildings, in particularly the Mother Church. There are fountains and a beautiful reflection pool, which make the area cooler in the summer and more pleasant to the eye, as well as being used as a symbol of rejuvenation.

It is definitely a refuge from the street,” says architect Ann Beha, who was in charge of designing the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity (Hildner, Jeffrey. 2002). The Christian Science Center Plaza has many uses. The church is used for weekly services and it is open for visits every day. It also hosts the June Annual Meeting, where members from 134 countries come to the church to unite in prayer (Anonymous. “Architecture- The Mother Church Extension”). Other buildings of the complex are also important.

There is a Mapparium where people can walk through observe a 3 story stained glass globe showing all of the countries of the world and how ideas have been spread. The Christian Science Center is a very important area of Boston. It is a religious sanctuary, a center of learning (religious, social, and geographical), and an open plaza for people to enjoy. There are many similarities in how the Castillo in Chichen Itza and The Mother Church in the Christian Science World Headquarters work urbanistically. They are both massive structures, built over pre-existent and small temples, designed to bring pride to the followers of that faith.

They show the power of the religion and preserves its status in its magnificent architecture. They were also both set in an open area, to allow for mass gatherings and to show its true size without any obstructions. Mass pilgrimages to Chichen Itza took place to see the coming of Kukulkan, just as people all over the world come to the Mother Church in June for the annual meeting. They were both near trade sites, but yet totally isolated from the city. They were both part of a complex which spread truth and knowledge, with schools and observatories such as the Caracol and the Mapparium.

They both used water as a sacred symbol, Chichen Itza having sacred cenotes, and the Christian Science Center with its long reflecting pool and fountains. While these two temples are enormous and just as important as they are large, their use is optimized by the complex they are found in which allows them to be fully used by the city and surrounding area, and even the world. These two buildings were built in order to facilitate as well as enhance the visual surroundings and to show a sign of faith. They are pieces of the urbanistic puzzle that the city would be complete without.

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