Climbing our own spiritual pyramid

Though topped by the tiled domes and twin towers of burnt orange coloured 16th-century church, the hill does not seem extraordinary from a distance.

Though topped by the tiled domes and twin towers of burnt orange coloured 16th-century church, the hill does not seem extraordinary from a distance.

The promise of a good view of the spreading metropolis of Puebla, Mexico, 10 kilometres to the east, might be enough to entice one to climb to the summit, as it did my son and I three weeks ago.

The steep hike up the 60, or so, metres to the sanctuary of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios requires a bit more effort since your starting point already rests some 2,100 metres above sea level. Actually, though, for the more than 21 million inhabitants of greater Mexico City, roughly a two-hour bus ride to the west, this is about a 100 metres shy of their average street level.

The hill’s grassy flanks shaded with trees and shrubs make it more difficult to imagine what lay beneath our feet. But Alexander von Humboldt, the great German naturalist and explorer, knew what he was walking on back in 1804.

His calculation of the base and height of the Piramide Tepanapa, or the Great Pyramid of Cholula, clearly established this “hill” as the biggest pyramid in the Americas and larger in volume than the mighty Giza in Egypt, though not as high.

In a mid-19th century book on von Humboldt’s travels, the American poet Richard Stoddard remarks “Cholula in its glory was one of “The Delphian vales, the Palestines, The Meccas of the mind.”

Many Meso-american cultures left their physical mark on this holy place before friars in the train of Spanish conquistadors built a Christian temple on its broad summit.

A museum in the shadow of the Cholula pyramid offers displays of Olmec, Totonac, Tajin, Toltec and Aztec and other cultural artifacts found on the site and discovered in system of tunnels archeologists have dug underneath it.

Later peoples superimposed their pyramids over earlier efforts of their predecessors, just as the Spanish finally did with their church. Buried deep lay the first modest structure that some believe marked the site of a life-giving spring for early inhabitants some 25 centuries ago.

One of the area guides told us the site had been crowded with people for the spring equinox the weekend before our visit.

I had heard it was the same for other pre-Columbian sites in the central valley of Mexico. Many appear spiritually drawn to this pyramid, and other sites, by the belief in a heightened life energy at them during this special time of year.

The church atop the pyramid holds the image of the Virgin of the Remedies. It also holds a special place in the spiritual life of Cholulans. In late May and early June, the statue ‘comes down’ and is paraded through neighbourhoods of Cholula.

Again, on September 7th, pilgrims make their way up with lanterns to prepare ‘greet’ the Virgin at dawn on the 8th. Not surprisingly that date appears to have been chosen centuries ago by the early Catholic missionaries because it coincided with the gatherings that occurred then at that very pyramid venerating the Aztec rain goddess.

“The spiritual experience of the human being is permanent, and it continues to deepen,” remarked the Panamanian theologian Jose Maria Vigil in an article entitled Theism, A Useful But Not Absolute Model To Imagine God. However he agrees with the authors of Gaudium and Spes a document of Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which focused on the renewal of the Catholic church. They noted that “We Christians have obscured more than revealed the face of God.”

Vigil continues, “In general, we lack new images, new metaphors for God; the traditional ones are being spent and no longer work for many people.

“Today, an increasing number of people are discovering that theism is incompatible with their actual perception of the world, and that outside of theism, paradoxically, they reconcile themselves with the divine dimension of reality, with the Divine Reality, a new name they are more respectful of than God.”

Passover and Easter are upon us. The notes below this column always point out times important to peoples of varied spiritual traditions.

How and by whichever path we choose up our own spiritual pyramid, the key human quest is for the understanding and wisdom we gain on the climb.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read