Entrance from above to the Loltun Cave complex

Guided by the Ancestors? Mayan Fanatic Saved by a 1000-Year-Old Priest

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On the 3rd of January 1931, an article appeared in the Modesto News-Herald entitled ‘Mystery of the Loltun Cave hermit’. The article recounted the encounter between a man by the name of Robert Stacy-Judd and an old Mayan hermit, when the former got lost whilst exploring the Loltun Cave with several native guides.

Robert Stacy-Judd, circa 1933.

Robert Stacy-Judd, circa 1933. ( Public Domain )

The Architect Adventurer

Robert Stacy-Judd was an English architect involved in the Mayan Revival, an architectural movement that flourished during the 1920s and 1930s. This style drew inspiration from the art and architecture of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. One of Stacy-Judd’s best-known works, for example, is the Aztec Hotel, which was built in 1924, on the U.S. Route 66 in Monrovia, in the San Gabriel Valley, California. Needless to say, Stacy-Judd was extremely passionate about the Mayans. Apart from his architectural works, Stacy-Judd’s passion manifested itself in his explorations of the Mayan civilization and in his writings on their architecture.

Mayan Inspired ‘Aztec Hotel’ by Robert Stacy-Judd

Mayan Inspired ‘Aztec Hotel’ by Robert Stacy-Judd ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The Loltun Cave Experience

One of the places Stacy-Judd explored was the Loltun (which means ‘Flower Stone’) Cave. This cave is situated in the Yucatan Peninsula, about 5 km (3.11 miles) to the south of the Mexican town of Oxkutzcab. This cave contains archaeological artifacts, including wall paintings, related to the Mayan civilization of the Late Pre-Classical era, and it was perhaps these that prompted Stacy-Judd to explore the Loltun Cave.

The expansive Loltun Cave, Mexico.

The expansive Loltun Cave, Mexico. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

According to Stacy-Judd, his was the “fifth expedition to attempt an exploration of this immense underground territory,” The architect and Mayan enthusiast was accompanied by three locals who served as his guides. In order to be able to find his way back out of the cave, Stacy-Judd had a guide stationed at a point where a view of the lighted part of the cave may be had. Then, going deeper, he left the second guide at a place where his voice could be heard by the first man. He then went deeper into the cave with the third guide.


Whilst the two men were thus exploring the cave, a huge rock had dislodged itself from the ceiling, and came crashing down on the spot where Stacy-Judd and his guide had been. Fortunately for them, they had gotten out of the way just before this happened. The sound of the crashing rock caused the first guide to leave his position, as he went into the cave to find out what had happened. As a result, they no longer knew the way out of the cave. Having found the second guide, the four men attempted to retrace their steps in the hope of getting out of the cave.

Petroglyphs and painting exist in the Mexican cave.

Petroglyphs and painting exist in the Mexican cave. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

At one point, Stacy-Judd reached a narrow opening, and, squeezing through it, came into a cave. As he was about to turn back, he saw something that made him stop. A small light, followed by a head and human form rose from a pile of rocks. When Stacy-Judd had a clearer view of the figure, he saw that it was an “old man dressed in a white robe”, with a “gourd, serving as a skull cap” on his head, and a “small double gourd from which protruded a lighted wick” in his left hand.

The Old Mayan Priest Appears

Stacy-Judd called to his guides, who were able to communicate with the old man as they spoke the same language. Although the explorer and his guides spoke no common language, Stacy-Judd was informed by them, through signs, that the man was a Mayan priest who was guarding a treasure. In addition, he was told that the priest was 1000 years old.

Stacy-Judd thought that this was an exaggeration, but reckoned that the man was “well over one hundred years old”. Eventually, the old man understood that they were lost, and guided them out of the cave. Stacy-Judd wrote that after they had gotten out of the cave he “took both photograph stills and motion pictures of him”, and “pressed a few coins into his withered hands, not in the sense of a reward, but merely as a slight expression of our appreciation”, before departing.

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