El Avatar de Xochipilli

The Avatar (1) of Xochipilli

  1. an embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person (in this case a statue)

The most common reference for the discovery of this statue that you will find will likely be “In the mid-19th century, a 16th-century Aztec statue of Xochipilli was unearthed on the side of the volcano Popocatépetl near Tlalmanalco” (1) although others state “His sculpture was found on the slopes of the Iztaccihuatl volcano, near the town of Tlalmanalco, State of Mexico, during the 19th century”.

  1. This is a much regurgitated statement. You will find it repeated word for word in a lot of entries regarding Xochipilli. At least Wikipedia note “citation needed” after they use the statement.

The INAH (1) website says of the statue “The sculpture is carved from andesite, a volcanic rock extremely abundant on the slopes of Mount Iztaccihuatl, the area where it was excavated in the nineteenth century, near Tlalmanalco, today in the State of Mexico. The piece had been registered as part of the collection of the National Museum of Anthropology since 1882, when it appears for the first time in the catalogues of the former National Museum, after it had been donated by Alfredo Chavero.”

  1. INAH – Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia

Kiracofe (1995) notes the year of the discovery of the statue as being 1885.

Kiracofes’ paper is on architectural fusion in México and notes that in some areas indigenous thought infiltrated urban planning and that some designs, such as the motifs on the Tlalmanalco statue of Xochipilli, ended up being incorporated in Spanish construction.

Kiracofe 1995

Aguilar-Moreno (2006) has this to say of the statues discovery, “The picturesque town of Tlalmanalco, once part of the province of Chalco, is situated at the foot of the volcano Iztaccihuatl in the Valley of Mexico and was an important pre-Columbian religious center and a region famous for its artists. This sculpture suggests that the Chalco style had a high ornamental quality. According to the Spanish chronicler Fray Diego Durán, this region was a replica of Tlalocan, the exuberant paradise of Tlaloc at the lower slopes of the volcano Iztaccihuatl, which was considered the mountain of sustenance. Here was found a sculpture of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of flowers, music, dance, and feasting. Whether the statue depicts a priest wearing the mask of Xochipilli or the god himself is unclear.” (1)

  1. the reference to the statue wearing a mask is very interesting. Masks play a valuable role in religious festivals/practices and there is some indication that the mask might be made of human skin (or even that the statue depicts a priest wearing the skin flayed from a sacrificed person). I go into more detail into this in the Post Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers (and others)

Regardless of the exact location it was unearthed (I do go into this in greater detail below) both of these volcano/mountains exist in the same cultural area. The most common (read ONLY) reference to this is that the carving belongs to the “sculptural tradition of Chalco, a town southeast of the Basin of Mexico”

Chālco was a pre-Columbian Nahua altepetl or confederacy in central Mexico. It was divided into the four sub-altepetl of Tlalmanalco/Tlacochcalco, Amaquemecan, Tenanco Texopalco Tepopolla and Chimalhuacan-Chalco, which were themselves further subdivided into altepetl tlayacatl, each with its own tlatoani.

Aside from the much regurgitated “it was found on the slopes of the volcano/mountain Popocatepetl/Iztaccihuatl” there are also indications that it may have actually been concealed (from prying Spanish eyes) within the town of Tlalmanalco either in a local church ground (which one presumes was originally an indigenous holy place/place of worship) or within the grounds of a nearby cemetery.

Dominguez (2021) in an article notes that the statue was “said to have been found on the slopes of the Ixtaccihuatl volcano” and that local oral tradition states that it “was found between the streets of Águila and Vicente Guerrero, in the municipal seat of Tlalmanalco, back in 1926”. This is echoed in a paper by Pomedio (2005) who states that “J. Noyola Rocha has been collecting oral traditions for twenty five years. About the statue of Xochipilli, he heard two versions regarding where the statue was found. In the first, the statue would have been discovered in Calle del Aguila, in the old cemetery of the city. When she was discovered, we would have noticed, by the presence of recent offerings, that secretly, people still came to worship her. The second version says that the statue would have been found in the chapel of which we spoke above, at the time of its reconstruction”. These versions where the statue was hidden from the invader, but located in a space where it could still be accessed and worshipped, is a logical explanation if we take in the syncretic nature of Mesoamerican worship after the arrival of the Spaniards. The old gods were still celebrated under the guise of the new imports. Xochipilli and St John the Baptist is where these two forces met and combined (1).

  1. See Post Xochipilli : A Force of Nature for more detail on this

Tlalmanalco is a municipality located in the far south-eastern part of the State of Mexico.

The municipality of Tlalmanalco uses the imagery and symbology of Xochipilli quite heavily to identify themselves.

The town of Tlalmanalco, Mexico with the Iztaccíhuatl Volcano in the background.
Antique Real Photo Postcard, circa 1930s.
From a different angle. The mountain certainly resembles the silhouette of a recumbent princess. This church will come up again shortly. Note the area around the church (in comparison with a modern map and photos below). This photo is circa 1920’s-30’s (around the time of the statues “discovery”) and you can see that it still a fairly wild area and it would have been a lot easier to conceal something than you might think if visiting the area today.

In Aztec mythology, Iztaccíhuatl was a princess who fell in love with one of her father’s warriors, Popocatépetl. The emperor sent Popocatépetl to war in Oaxaca, promising him Iztaccíhuatl as his wife when he returned (which Iztaccíhuatl’s father presumed he would not). Iztaccíhuatl was falsely told that Popocatépetl had died in battle, and believing the news, she died of grief. When Popocatépetl returned to find his love dead, he took her body to a spot outside Tenochtitlan and kneeled by her grave. The gods covered them with snow and changed them into mountains. Iztaccíhuatl’s mountain is called “Sleeping Woman” (from Nahuatl iztāc “sleep” and cihuātl “woman”) because it resembles a woman lying on her back

Jesús also painted Xochipilli
Iztaccihuatl — as seen from the Sacromonte mountain in Amecameca.
Amecameca lies between Tlalmanalco and Iztaccihuatl.
Image by AlejandroLinaresGarcia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The silhouette of Iztaccíhuatl resembling a lying woman as believed by indigenous Mexican people, seen from the west: La Cabeza (head), El Pecho (chest), La Panza (belly), Las Rodillas (knees) and Los Pies (feet). El Pecho and La Panza are still glacier clad. Picture taken on 21 November 2004 by D. Schneider.

As previously mentioned; local oral traditions state that the statue may have either been concelaed in a cemetery or a local church ground. The cemetery in question (on calle de aguila) is, mas o menos, located smack dab in the middle of the town that now exists.

The cemetery is located less than one kilometre from the church and if you compare the postcard shots of the church shown earlier to the maps and images supplied here you can note how urban encroachment has swallowed the entire area. This area is now (again, more or less) an outer suburb of México City and lies only a 52 minute drive (1) from the Zocalo in México City.

  1. Yeah? What ever you reckon Google maps. Have you seen México City traffic????
Street view of the church in 2022

The open chapel of Tlalmanalco is located on the slopes of the Iztaccíhuatl volcano, 55 km east of Mexico City. It is part of the convent complex that includes the church of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the Franciscan convent and the chapel itself

A plaster cast replica of the Tlalmanalco statue of Xochipilli at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. U.S.A.

Cast Statue And Base
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Catalog Number:A77213-0
Specimen Count:2
Object Name:Cast Statue And Base
Index Term:Cast
Other Object Term(s):Sculpture; Figure
Continent:North America
Collector(s):Ayme, L. H.
Accession Number:016185
Donor Name:Eufemio Abadiano
Accession Date:25 Jun 1885
Manufacturing TechniquePainted
Notes: (1)Cast of statue of Xōchipilli, the god of art, games, beauty, dance, flowers, and song in Aztec mythology. His name contains the Nahuatl words xōchitl (“flower”) and pilli (either “prince” or “child”), and hence means “flower prince”. In the mid-19th century, an Aztec statue of Xochipilli was unearthed on the side of the volcano Popocatépetl near Tlalmanalco. The statue is of a single figure seated upon a temple-like base. Both the statue and the base upon which it sits are covered in carvings of sacred flowers (psychotropic plants). The figure himself sits on the base, head tilted up, eyes open, with his mouth half open and his arms open. The original statue is currently housed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
  1. A very popular interpretation for a long time supposed that the representations on the body of the god were of hallucinogenic plants and that he was in a trance (anything by Wasson); we now know that they represent flowers of different kinds and with meanings related to fertility and life. (Vela 2022). Check the following posts for a deeper look at this……
  • Xochipilli : A Force of Nature
  • Xochipilli : Intoxicating Scent
  • Xochipilli : Is it a Dahlia?
  • Xochipilli : New Floral Identifications

The notes referencing the donation of the replica.


  • Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel (2006) Handbook to Life in the Aztec World : Facts On File, Inc : ISBN 0-8160-5673-0
  • DOMINGUEZ, JOSÉ ALBERTO ZEA. (2021) DÓNDE ENCONTRARON AL PRÍNCIPE DE LA FLORES XOCHIPILLI : Continuamosmx : July 8, 2021; date accessed 12/08/22
  • KIRACOFE, James B. (1995) Architectural Fusion and Indigenous Ideology in Early Colonial Teposcolula The Casa de la Cacica: A Building at the Edge of Oblivion : Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, vol. XVII, núm. 66, primavera, 1995, pp. 45-84 Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas Distrito Federal, México
  • Pomedio, C. (2005). XOCHIPILLI, PRINCE DES FLEURS. De l’Altiplano Mexicain à La Patagonie, Travaux Et Recherches à l’Université De Paris I, Cyril Giorgi (Coord) BAR International Series 1389.
  • Schneider, Demian & Delgado Granados, Hugo & Huggel, Christian & Kääb, Andreas. (2008). Assessing lahars from ice-capped volcanoes using ASTER satellite data, the SRTM DTM and two different flow models: Case study on Iztaccíhuatl (Central Mexico). Natural Hazards and Earth System Science. 8. 10.5194/nhess-8-559-2008.
  • Vela, Enrique, (2021) “18. Xochipilli. Tlalmanalco, State of Mexico”, Arqueologia Mexicana , special edition no. 96, April 2021 pp46-47.
  • Wasson, R. G. (1973). THE ROLE OF “FLOWERS” IN NAHUATL CULTURE: A SUGGESTED INTERPRETATION. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University, 23(8), 305–324. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41762283
  • Wasson, R. G. (1980). The wondrous mushroom: Mycolatry in Mesoamerica. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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