Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Red Camisa (Shirt) for a Male Saint Effigy

2009_042_259_D_SCR (1).jpg


Red Camisa (Shirt) for a Male Saint Effigy


Wooden saint figures, such as the one in the center, were lavishly dressed and re-dressed over time in layers of miniature clothes such as those on either side of him. Despite their European Catholic origin, santos and santas were “Mayanized” to varying degrees, dressed in miniature versions of local dress. All of the ones here originate from Kakchikel Maya towns.

Maya people have transferred their love of copious garments in bright colors to the saint figures and say that the finer the textiles that adorn them, the more well-respected is the responsible cofradía and the happier and more benevolent is the santo. This is also reflective of the belief that santos are actually living beings who must be dressed, fed, and honored as such. The figures were always dressed in their church context but particular care was devoted to dressing the santos for their processions through town on feast days.

Sleeved shirts were not worn by the ancient Maya, but brought by the Spanish and assigned to santos, as well as to men, in deference to the new overlords. Red striped garments are the most prevalent in santo clothing. The red saint’s camisa is by no means simple, with its expensive, imported silk bands elevating the status of its santo wearer and the cofradía that commissioned or wove such an expensive garment. The long proportions of these shirts ensure that the entire body of the figure is covered as he sits or stands on the altar. This combines to Catholic traditions of modesty with age-old Maya practice to elevate status by wearing as much cloth as possible.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guatemala, Panajachel


Kakchikel Maya


Early 20th century


Cotton, acrylic fiber

Credit Line

Bright Collection of Guatemalan Textiles

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

Exhibition Checklist