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Both Diego and Nicolás Chavez suggested to me that while there are several important cave shrines around Santiago Atitlan, the niches on the altarpiece refer to the most sacred of local caves called Paq'alib'al, meaning "at the place of revelation or appearance," located in the mountains to the southwest of town. Nicolás described the cave in this way:

"All the great saints and nuwal ancestors live in Paq'alib'al. Their spirits live there in the center of the mountain. This is also where the south wind is born. Strong rains come from this cave because that is where the clouds are formed. There is always the sound of wind coming out of the cave because this is where the ancients live. The entrance is guarded by two pumas and two jaguars and is adorned with abundant fruits such as corozos, bananas, melacotones, plantains, zapotes, cacao and pataxtes to show that the sacred ancestors are present inside and that they have power to give life and much fruit. Inside Paq'alib'al is a gigantic snake one meter thick and fifty meters long that watches over the saints.

"Near the cave in a small ravine is a great tree where angels rest when it rains and inside the branches are clouds. The branches are covered with squirrels and birds. A peccary circles the trunk when it is about to rain because clouds and the first rays of dawn begin at this tree. Tremors shake the earth every five minutes there because this is where the ancestors live when they leave Paq'alib'al. My great grandfather didn't believe in this tree and wanted to use its wood to build a canoe and for firewood. When he began to cut the tree, it bled. Immediately he had a stroke and he remained half-paralyzed for the rest of his life. Another man who didn't believe in the tree tried to climb it and became a monkey."

Looking toward Paq'alib'al in the mountains southwest of Santiago Atitlan.