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After describing Paq'alib'al, Nicolás took out a copy of a drawing that I had made of the altarpiece and pointed out that the monument represented the mountain of Paq'alib'al and that the saints are to be understood as emerging from the cave:

"The men climbing the sides of the altarpiece are going to pray at the mountain shrine of Paq'alib'al. The trees, plants and flowers along the sides of the altarpiece and around each niche represent the miraculous fruit and trees left by the nuwal ancestor Francisco Sojuel. The twisted columns are the snakes that guard the inside of the cave. The tree at the top of the mountain is the sacred tree that stands nearby where clouds rest before rising into the sky. The pots on either side of the upper tier represent the earth and the sun may be seen rising out of it on one side of the mountain and setting on the other. The pinecones above the second tier of saints are the teeth of the jaguar that stands at the entrance of the mountain and guards it."

In traditional Tz'utujil cosmology, the creation of the world is not a singular event in the distant past. Like the agricultural cycle of maize and the movement of the sun, the cosmos goes through orderly phases of birth, maturity, death, and rebirth. If life-sustaining rituals are not performed at appropriate times tied to the calendar year the cycle would be broken and existence would cease.

Central altarpiece of the church. Drawing by author.