Placement and Context
Understanding the significance of the Coyolxauhqui stone’s location is crucial to comprehending all of its inherent symbolism. On February 21, 1978, electricians working in Mexico City discovered the Coyolxauhqui stone as they were digging beneath the city street level. Before this discovery, archaeologists had been trying to garner attention and political support for excavations of Aztec ruins within the city; but, it was Coyolxauhqui who really got the public and the politicians behind the idea of excavation[i].
As excavation of the Templo Mayor and surrounding area gathered steam, Coyolxauhqui’s significance became clearer.
The stone was originally placed on the south side of Templo Mayor. The Templo Mayor honors two gods, arguably the most prominent in the Mexica pantheon of deities as we understand it today: Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli. Each side of the temple aligns with the mountain that corresponds to a deity: The north side of the temple lies on an axis with Mt. Tlaloc, aligning with Tlaloc, and the south side aligns with Mt. Coatepec, the “Serpent Mountain.” If we recall from the chronicles, Mt. Coatepec is the site of the battle between Huitzilopochtli and Coyolxauhqui[ii]. However, the symbolism does not end there.
The temples are clearly meant to evoke the significance of these mythological stories and stand in as symbolic mountains within the heart of Tenochtitlan. Mirroring the story of her demise, Coyolxauhqui lays at the bottom of the steps on the side of the Templo Mayor dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, just as she lay dismembered and defeated at the bottom of Mt. Coatepec.
Scholars have reason to believe that located at the top of the Templo Mayor was the sacred bundle representing Huitzilopochtli, and potentially the massive statue of Coatlicue as well. In imperial state religious ceremonies, many of the chronicles describe the manner in which sacrificial victims were brought to the top of the Templo Mayor to be sacrificed and their hearts removed (different variations depending on the occasion). In ceremonies honoring Huitzilopochtli, victims may also have been beheaded and dismembered, in the style of Coyolxauhqui. After the victims fall to the bottom of the steps, Coyolxauhqui awaits them, all of her earth goddess iconography comes into play; her placement suggests that she awaits the sacrificial bodies in order to eat them and restore the earth.
This placement has many important associations with other aspects of Mexica religion and view of the cosmos. Coyolxauhqui’s placement at the bottom of the stairs—the bottom of the mountain-- firmly places her on the terrestrial level[iii], while Huitzilopochtli remains celestial. Here, Coyolxauhqui is again connected with the earth, furthering the possible blending between herself and her mother Coatlicue that was discussed in the iconographical page. Furthermore, she is associated with the moon[iv], associated with not only females but also defeated warriors.
[i] Leonardo López Luján, The Offerings of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan (Niwot, Colo: University Press of Colorado, 1994).
[ii] Townsend, Richard F. Elizabeth Hill Boone, ed. The Aztec Templo Mayor, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987).
[iii] Townsend, Richard F. Elizabeth Hill Boone, ed. The Aztec Templo Mayor, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987).
[iv]Umberger, Emily. Elizabeth Hill Boone, ed. The Aztec Templo Mayor, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987).