THE CURRENT ALTARS / OAXACA
Many may think that the offering of things at the altar is of pre-Hispanic origin, and it is not, it is something of totally Catholic origin.
There was an investigation, led by Dr. Elsa Malvido, a historian of the INAH, (National Institute of Anthropology and History) to clarify that this tradition was not of pre-Hispanic origins but rather of medieval and even Roman times.
First let’s start with how the celebrations of all the saints and faithful departed arose. These arose in 10th century France by the abbot of Cluny, who decided to resume the celebration in honor of the Maccabees, Jewish martyrs, on November 1, and the anonymous martyrs, those who have no name or celebration in the Catholic ritual calendar, on November 2.
Well, that’s how the celebrations came about, and the offerings on the altars? The Indians were buried in the atrium of the church, and the wealthiest were buried closer to the altar, where the soul was forgiven, so the Indians had to get indulgences. Each indulgence was obtained by visiting a relic. These were exposed on the altars of the churches on All Saints’ Day. Then, to reach the cathedral, they bought bread and put it next to fruit and the family saint.
After that the altars were increasing in number of levels. Those of 2 levels symbolize the sky and the earth. To those of 3 floors is added purgatory, and the now most common altar of 7 level represents the 7 steps to reach heaven. Each step is one of the 7 deadly sins that must be overcome.