Nicaragua: Sun God of the Subtiava People



On the far west side of León, the once colonial capital of Nicaragua, there is a church where the indigenous Subtiava people have been in attendance for hundreds of years.

The most well-known attribute found inside of the building is not related to Christianity, surprisingly enough, but to the pre-Columbian practice embraced by the Subtiava of worshiping a sun deity.

The Sun God (“Dios Sol”), a stylized (hand-carved) effigy of the sun with a human face, is placed on the ceiling about mid-point between the main entrance and the altar at the other end. The effigy (pictured above) has been in the very same spot for most of the church’s history and, with few exceptions, rarely taken down.

As the story goes, the church created the effigy in an effort to lure the Subtiava inside during the time of the Conquest, thereby helping to facilitate the Catholic church’s efforts to convert the indigenous population of the area. No doubt, Christianity’s “one true God” resonated with the Subtiava’s all-powerful, life-giving singular god of the sun.

In a recent visit, I discovered that the church has been undergoing extensive restoration, which includes adding touches of splendor throughout (i.e. gilding) and rebuilding chapel altars from scratch.

I was particularly taken with the choir loft (“balcon del coro”), a littled-used space that once accommodated a pipe organ and a choir, a remnant of the colonial era. And while there was much joyful singing by the congregation on the morning of my visit, I kept on wondering about the music tradition at the church and how much it has changed over the centuries.

Learn more: El Dios Sol todavía alumbra a los sutiabas (La Prensa)

[N.B. This is not an official Department of State website or blog. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.]

Previous Post: Nicaragua: The Great Earthquake of 1972
Next Post: Nicaragua: Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua

  • Nice. Put in a harpsichord and a quartet and we’re ready to go! Beautiful church.