The Legend of Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent,” was one of the most important and widely worshiped deities in early pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mesoamerica. While Quetzalcoatl was his name in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), this god was also key to the Maya culture, where he was called Kukulkán or Gukumatz.

Importance of the Legend of Quetzalcoatl

He continues to be a central figure in modern Mexican legends and folklore – in fact, many place the blame for the fall of the Aztec civilization on his shoulders.

As one of the primary deities of Mesoamerica, Quetzalcoatl was multifaceted and was credited with many acts which were vital to humanity. For example, as the patron god of priests, learning, and knowledge, he was said to have invented books and the calendar.

As one of the gods of the wind, he figured prominently in creation myths. He is also credited with giving humanity corn, the basis of Mesoamerican cuisine and, to many, life.

The Feathered Serpent

Quetzalcóatl

Visual representations of the deity vary, but he is often depicted in one of two ways. As a god he is sometimes portrayed as a snake with wings or covered with green plumage, greatly resembling a dragon.

In human form Kukulcán is shown is a warrior with a tall ocelot skin crown and shell pendant, which represents his role as the god of wind.

The cult of a feathered serpent has been documented back to the first century BC, in Teotihuacán. While early depictions were more direct – showing the god as an actual snake – soon the god began to take on human features. In fact, in the early Maya period, snakes themselves were common as religious imagery, as they were seen at the representation of the sky.

The fall of Teotihuacan meant that the cult of the feathered serpent started to spread to other parts of Mexico. During later periods, the cult of Kukulkán continued to spread throughout the Mayan region, including such important sites as the Chichén Itzá pyramid and El Tajín.

Cholula, Puebla, was a significant site of worship; in fact, the world’s largest pyramid, built in Cholula, is dedicated to the legend of Quetzalcoatl (Kukulkán). The Great Pyramid of Cholula rises 180 feet above its surroundings, and when completed it was 1300 feet by 1300 feet. It is even larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza!

The Fall of the Aztecs

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the legend of Quetzalcoatl was the idea of a god that was to return, in human form, from the East.

Although there is controversy, many believe that when the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés landed on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in 1519, the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma thought that he was the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl.

This belief is supported by the fact that the god was to return in a One Reed year (on the Aztec calendar), which fit the year 1519. It quickly became clear that Cortés, due to his less-than-benevolent behavior, was not the well-loved Quetzalcoatl, but the story remains.

The legend of Quetzalcoatl has even spread beyond the religions of Mesoamerica. For example, New Age practitioners place importance on the legend.

While Quetzalcoatl’s importance in the conquista of the Aztec people is still controversial, it’s clear that this is one of those Latin American myths and legends that continues to be of great cultural importance for the Mexican people.

Do you think Quetzalcoatl’s legend played a part in the fall of the Aztecs? Tell us your opinion in the comments.

Capirotada, a Favorite Mexican Dessert

It seems that most cultures have a form of bread pudding. They’re delicious, they’re fairly simple, and they use up extra ingredients in the kitchen that may go bad soon. Mexican cuisine is no exception, and capirotada is its answer to bread pudding. Well-known and well-loved by Mexicans and Mexican Americans, capirotada is one of those Latin treats that seem to fly under the radar, but that deserve a wider audience.

If you’ve spent time with a Mexican family during Lent, you’ve surely tasted Mexican capirotada. This aromatic dessert is a Lenten staple, when it is eaten on Holy Days and on Fridays.

Ingredients and Recipe of Mexican Capirotada

When it comes to recipes for Mexican capirotada, there seem to be as many as there are families.  The basics include old or toasted bread, cut and stacked with chunks of fruits and nuts, covered with a cinnamon- infused piloncillo (brown sugar), syrup and baked with cheese on top.

But each ingredient can vary: depending on the recipe, the bread might be a baguette or a bolillo, and the cheese fresh or aged.

Fruits can include raisins, bananas, guavas, apricots, apples, coconuts, pineapple, and dates, and nuts range from peanuts and pecans to almonds and pine nuts. Some recipes even include meat, tomatoes, and onions.

Beyond family variations, every region has its variations on the basic capirotada recipe, like many other kinds of Latin foods. For example, Jalisco doesn’t use fruit, Nuevo León uses queso chihuahua or manchego cheese, and in Central Mexico, aged cheese is used, but no fruit or nuts.

Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding made with cinnamon, piloncillo, cloves, raisins, bread, and cheese.

This video shares simple tips such as resting in between layers so bread soaks up the syrup like a sponge and you end up with a soft sweet dish. You will also learn the rich religious symbolism and history of the dish.

History of Capirotada

Not surprisingly for a dish with so many variations, capirotada has a long, rich history. Formally known as capirotada de vigilia, the dish itself is some 500 years old.

It has gone through a number of changes in 500 years. Originally a savory dish in the Middle East and North Africa, in pre-colonial Spain it was associated with the Moors and the Jewish community.

After Ferdinand and Isabel’s edict banishing Jews from Spain, the dish was included in a book during the Inquisition called the Regimento de Inquisitor General as a way to tell if Hispanic Jews had really converted to Christianity or if they were “fake converts” (crypto-Jews). The dish made its way to the New World, where it eventually became a dessert.

Capirotada’s association with Lent probably relates to its being a good way to use up leftovers before fasting. The word capirotada is derived from caperuza, or hood, likely due to the cheese forming a “cap” on the dessert. Given its Lenten history, this cap was seen as a friar’s cowl or hood.

Many Mexican families associate the dessert’s ingredients with the Passion of Christ: the bread represents the Body of Christ, while the syrup represents His blood; the cinnamon sticks, the cross; the raisins or cloves, the nails; and the cheese, the Holy Shroud (el Santo Sudario).

So if you haven’t gotten a chance to try capirotada, make sure to look for it this Lenten season.

Are you a fan of capirotada? Share your recipe in the comments

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