Surprisingly , Spanish priests found that the conquered Aztecs took quickly to the new faith. The Aztecs saw in the worship of Jesus Christ a similarity to the worship of the Plumed Aztec Serpent Quetzalcoatl. They also saw that Jesus’ teachings on brotherly love were in concord with the ancient god Quetzalcoatl’s pious and peaceful views on how government should function . And, the Christian idea of the second coming of Christ resembled with the ancient Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl’s going away and promised return.
Indeed, before the conquest of the Aztecs, the sighting of white bearded men that arrived from the sea on floating mountains was believed to be Quetzalcoatl’s return. Personal accounts that were reported to the Aztec king Moctezuma II also mentioned that these beings rode on top of colossus deer and harnessed thunder and lightning from staffs they brought with them . Their skin was described as glossy and hard. What else but gods could fit this description? During the battle for the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, it became clear that these bearded men were not gods but the religion they imposed clearly requires the worship of a God that seemed one and the same with Quetzalcoatl. In an unlikely marriage of faiths, the Plumed Aztec Serpent became intimately connected with Jesus Christ.
The Mexican Aztec also adapted Romanist Catholic Christian practices to the old faiths and continued to follow aspects of the old religion by cleverly disguising their meaning from the Christian monks priests. Old Aztec gods were linked to Christian saints, Tlaloc the Aztec god of rain was revered under the guise of St. John the Baptist. Traditional practices were also aligned with Christian festivals; the yearly visit to the graves of the ancestors was carried out on All Souls’ Day. This holiday now known as the “Day of the Dead” is yet held throughout Mexican Aztec lands.
In 1531, a recent Catholic convert known as Juan Diego had a vision of a dark Virgin Mary near a temple to the Earth goddess Tonantzin. There, he supposedly received instructions concerning the construction of a temple in her honor. The new temple was to be located on the very spot where Tonantzin’s temple had stood. Under the name of the Black Virgin of Guadalupe, this hybrid Mesoamerican-Christian deity became and continues to be Mexico’s patron saint.
The way in which the Aztecs accepted Christian practices while maintaining the ways of the old Aztec gods is typical of the Aztec approach to religion. They were broadly speaking willing to accept that new gods and new practices were an extension of what they already knew, rather than a completely new departure. Aztecs built upon existing practices rather than replacing them.