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Father Bernabe Cobo - Inca Religion and Customs - Temple of Coricancha, Cuzco



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A description of the experience

Father Bernabe Cobo - Inca Religion and Customs [translated by Roland Hamilton]

The most important and most sumptuous temple of this kingdom was the one located in the city of Cuzco; this temple was held to be the chief center or capital of their false religion and the most venerated sanctuary that these Indians had, and for this reason, it was visited by all of the people of the Inca Empire, who came to it out of devotion on pilgrimages.

This temple was called Qorikancha (or Coricancha), which means "house of gold," because of the incomparable wealth of this metal which was embedded in the temple's chapels and walls, its ceiling and altars. Although this temple was dedicated to the Sun, statues of Viracocha, the Thunder, the Moon, and other important idols were placed there. In this respect, it was similar to the Pantheon at Rome, and at one time all of the major gods of the provinces that fell within the dominions of the Inca kings were in this temple. However, later these provincial gods were placed in separate temples so that they could be given better care, and the natives of the provinces mentioned above came to worship their gods and make sacrifices to them.

The edifice of this great temple was of the best stonework to be found in these Indies. Both inside and outside, the whole structure was made of carefully hewn ashlar stones that were skilfully set in place without mortar, and the job was done so well that the stones could not have been fit together more perfectly. However, it has often been said that in place of mortar, thin sheets of silver were placed in the joints between the stones.

Today the Monastery of Santo Domingo is built on the same site. Now forty years have passed since I was in that city. At that time, many walls of this edifice were still standing, and on one corner that was still intact part of a thin sheet of silver could be seen in the joint between two stones. I saw it myself on numerous occasions. From this it can be inferred that the ashlar stones of some of the walls may have been set on the sheets of silver.

The site of the temple was the most level part of the city, beyond the hillside slopes upon which most of the city was built and at the edge of the city where the valley begins. Moreover, the site is next to the stream that runs through that part of the city.

The plan of the edifice was as follows.

A square enclosure of high attractive stone walls was constructed on this site. One section of the enclosure followed the path of the stream, another was adjacent to the square where the festivals and Sacrifices for the Sun were celebrated, the third section was facing along the valley, and the other faced the Pomachupa district. Most of the wall was still standing when I saw it, and it was possible to estimate the size and workmanship of the structure. In addition to the exterior walls, other parts of the ancient edifice of the Coricancha/Qorikancha still remained outside the monastery.

Each side or section of the enclosure measured about four hundred to five hundred feet in length. Thus the entire edifice was about two thousand feet square. The walls were made of solid, dark grey stones which were straight and exactly perpendicular. The ashlar stones were large and attractive. Moreover, there were some hollow places made like niches at ground level.

Although many buildings were found within these walls, the most important ones were four large, skilfully built structures placed to form a square. These structures were like chapels for Viracocha, the Sun, the Moon, the Thunder, and the rest of the principal gods. One of the structures was a retreat for the mamaconas who served in the temple, and the largest building was used as a dwelling for the many priests and servants who resided there.

The main structure, or (as we would describe it) the main chapel, which housed the altar of the Sun and of the other major gods, contained incredible riches. In place of tapestries, the entire inside, including both the ceiling and walls, was embellished with sheets of gold.

Judging from this, it is possible to appreciate the enormous wealth of this temple, which was greater than that of any other temple which has been found in all of this New World.

Apart from many images and statues of gold and silver, there were countless other valuables, including the service and pieces of these precious metals, as well as the large quantity of fine clothing that the Inca kings had stored in it and used in worshiping the Sun.

From this temple Atauhualpa had most of the ransom taken which he offered in exchange for his freedom to the Marquis Francisco Pizarro at Cajamarca.

On the other side of the facade wall of this temple, in place of a cornice, there was a band made of sheets of gold about eleven inches wide which were inserted between the stones. The only door was located on the same side, and it led to a small patio where the statue of the Sun was placed during the day, unless it was taken to the square.

At night this statue was put in its chapel. Many mamaconas slept with the Sun. These women were the daughters of lords, and they were said to be the Sun's wives. Moreover, the Sun was even supposed to have intercourse with them. In front of this chapel there was a garden, and on the days when a festival of the Sun was held , maize stalks complete with leaves and ears made of the finest gold were fixed in place there. These pieces were stored for this purpose.

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