Submitted by Marta Barber*
Amid the famous 19th Century explorers of the Yucatán peninsula – Waldeck, Maler, Charnay – there is a pioneer whose name and work are almost forgotten: Estanislao Carrillo. Serving as the priest at Ticul, he aided John Lloyd Stephen’s explorations and perhaps inspired by the traveler’s publications, compiled his own accounts describing several Maya ruins.
Carrillo wrote articles about Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Chichén Itzá and the walled ruins at Chacchob, that were published between 1845–1849 under the pseudonym “Un Curioso” (A Curious Man) in the journal Registro Yucateco. Among those articles is the one titled, “Una Ciudad Morada,” published on March 12, 1845, in which he reports for the first time the site of Chachob, near Teabo. Here he describes the protective wall surrounding the site, defines its settlement organization and offers a social interpretation of the ancient community. David Webster carried out a detailed study of the site.
Estanislao Carrillo was born in Teabo, Yucatán, May 7, 1798. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Teabo had a sizable Maya population. By 1617, it was the location of the Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, built and run by the Franciscans. It was here, at the age of 8, that Estanislao started to work helping the friars with the chores of the monastery and the “capilla de indios,” the open chapel that became part of all early Catholic churches and monasteries in Yucatán and Mexico. He must have played on he large Pre-Columbian architectural complex at the center of the town.
Carrillo entered the College of San Francisco in Mérida where he took the Franciscan vows at the age of 20. In 1821, when Mexico won its Independence from Spain and passed a law of secularization of all the clergy, Friar Carrillo decided to stay a Franciscan monk.
In 1839, he met John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood during their explorations in Yucatán. Of him Stephens writes, “… while in the midst of a violent [malaria] attack, a gentleman arrived whose visit I had expected. ... It was the cura Carrillo of Ticul. ... We had heard of him as a person who took more interest in the antiquities of the country than almost any other, and who possessed more knowledge on the subject.” Stephen continues: “He was past forty, tall and thin, with an open, animated and intelligent countenance, manly, and at the same time mild, and belonged to the once powerful order of Franciscan friars, now reduced in this region to himself and a few companions.
... His friends urged him to secularize engaging to procure for him a better curacy, but he steadily refused. ... The quiet and seclusion of his village did not afford sufficient employment for his mind but, fortunately for science and for me, ... he had turned his attention to the antiquities of the country.”
In Chapter XV of Incidents of Travel in Yucatán, a message reaches Stephens in Santa Elena Nohcacab reporting that Father Carrillo was dying. With Dr. Cabot, Stephens traveled to Ticul to see the sick priest. The diagnosis was cholera. An English doctor was treating Carrillo by laying fresh killed mutton on his stomach. Stephens’ visit evidently cheered the priest and he began returning to health.
Carrillo pointed out various basic features of Maya life that later scholars expanded; he described the various water sources exploited by the Maya, noted fortifications and recorded some of the legends associated with the ruins.
Friar Carrillo was one of the first to study the use of chultuns (wells) in northwest Yucatán. In his book, Two Days in Nohpat, he reports the existence of a sacbé that joins the sites of Uxmal, Kabah and Nohpat. He also makes a very good reference of the legend of the tiny dwarf of Uxmal. (We cover Carrillo’s version of the legend compared to Stephen’s version in the April Explorer.)
Carrillo wrote about his investigations of several sites in the area in other publications. As a good observer, Carrillo, in one of his articles, praises a special class of cigars made by the Maya.
Friar Estanislao Carrillo is one of the lesser known names in Yucatec archaeology and, yet, “one of the most important,” said Alfredo Barrera Rubio, at that time Director of the INAH office in Mérida, during a presentation in 2000. The friar, he continued, “was one of the few researchers of the Yucatán in the 19th Century.”
In his translation of Stephens’ work into Spanish, Justo Sierra O’Reilly notes that Carrillo died of a pulmonary infection in Ticul on May 21, 1846. Sierra reports that Stephens had Carrillo made a member of the New York Historical Society and sent him a diploma of membership.
After the friar’s death in 1846, the Registro Yucateco published “Loose Papers of Father Carrillo,” which include articles such as “Ghosts,” where he makes references to the aluxes a balams of Maya mythology.
One of his biographers tells that when visiting an interior village, he complained about the mistreatment and injustice practiced toward the Indigenous population. He told the visiting priest that such conditions could only bring revolt. Not long after his death, the War of Castes began, bringing devastation to the whole peninsula.
*With thanks to Dr. Edward Kurjack, who suggested the subject, helped edit the story and supplied leads on where to look for information.
Martínez Alomía, Gustavo 1906 Historiadores de Yucatán, Campeche: El Fenix. www.archive.org/details/historiadoresde00alomgoog
Un Curioso (pseudonym).
Dos Días en Nohpat (Two Days in Nophat). Registro Yucateco, Mérida, Tomo II, pp. 261-272. The article is dated May 25, 1845.