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It is likely that the Tz'utujils chose the setting of their ancient capital as a sacred place, reflecting Maya cosmology which describes the emergence of life centered at a great body of water from which three mountains grew under the direction of the gods at the time of creation. Like the left altarpiece painting, a map of Santiago Atitlan painted in 1585 for the Relación Geográfica also depicts a simplified model of the town nestled between the massive peaks of the three volcanoes, each marked with one of the cardinal directions. The emergence of three great mountains from the primordial sea closely parallels the mythic history of the ancient Maya creator deity, Hun-Nal-Ye, the god of maize.

Map of Santiago Atitlan, 1585, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin. Mounted with permission.