Every winter solstice at 12:37 P.M. in Paint Rock, Texas, an arc of sunlight pierces the heart of an indigenous painting depicting a deer.
Precisely ten minutes later, at 12:47 P.M. in San Antonio, Texas, that arc of sunlight illuminates the altar of Mission Concepcion, where there was once a representation of Christ’s heart.
Every nineteen years, the full moon appears in the Milky Way, just as it is shown in a fresco on the ceiling of Mission Concepcion.
And on November 26th, 2019 a 4,295 year old calendar created by the Hokan speaking peoples of South Texas will end. After which it will reset for the next 4,295 years.
“You’re talking about specific moments in time where land and sky connect,” says Gary Perez.
Centro San Antonio ambassador Gary Perez first deciphered the geographical, astronomical and mathematical elements of the White Shaman Mural rock art near Del Rio that portrays the ceremonies of native peoples. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Gary is a Centro San Antonio ambassador and researcher who first deciphered the geographical, astronomical and mathematical elements of the White Shaman Mural rock art near Del Rio that portrays the ceremonies of native peoples.
“When I was invited to look at the rock art and it was explained to me in a narrative, I thought wow, they’re talking about our ceremony,” he explains, “but I also think you’re looking at a map of Texas, probably the oldest one in- maybe even the world.”
Gary is descended from the Hokan speaking peoples of South Texas, and was educated in his heritage largely by his grandmother. She was instrumental in the founding of the Native American Church, which happens to turn 100 years old in 2018. Because of this, Gary had unique insight when approaching the 4,000 year old art. He realized that four dots in the piece joined together to map the springs along the Balcones escarpment, including the Blue Hole at the University of the Incarnate Word, the headwaters of the San Antonio River.
“It’s not just a terrestrial river, it’s a celestial river,” he says, referencing the alignment of the constellation Eridanus with the San Antonio River at midnight every Winter Solstice. The resemblance between the river and constellation is uncanny, giving context to the spiritual connection indigenous peoples had for this area.
Centro San Antonio ambassador Gary Perez explains possible Spanish and Native worldviews at the Witte Museum. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Major events seem to coincide with the 4,295 year calendar created by the indigenous people of South Texas, down to the construction of the San Antonio Missions now 300 years past. Gary says the missions are a mixture of the Spanish and Native worldviews. As he sees it, they serve as a promise from his ancestors: “When the calendar comes to an end, it will end with everything we left embedded in the Missions.”
“Thank God we caught it in time. Our culture did not die. We’re still here,” he says, “There’s a story behind all this. A story of humanity.”
The Witte Museum recruited Gary to help them tell this story through their Lower Pecos exhibit, which features his research on the rock art near Del Rio. At one point in the immersive exhibit, Gary’s voice comes in, adding color to the story of the native peoples who lived in South Texas thousands of years ago.
His presence in the exhibit helps him connect with people when he’s on duty as an ambassador. Locals and visitors can speak with Gary in the streets Downtown one moment, and in the next listen to his insight on the Hokan speaking peoples of South Texas at the Witte Museum.
Part of the reason Gary became an ambassador was for these unique, interpersonal experiences. “I really wanted a ground view of what is being done Downtown.” He had an interest in what people were saying about the Missions, the river, the city, and its history. With time, he gained an additional perspective: “It didn’t take long before I realized there is a tremendous necessity for what Centro does Downtown.”
Centro San Antonio ambassador Gary Perez shares a few words before the featured presentation at the Witte Museum. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
“There’s a story behind all this. A story
It’s important to Gary that his work takes on a life of its own and that people are aware of these often overlooked pieces of history. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the opportunity that Centro offers.”
He will be representing the Headwaters Sanctuary with a Tricentennial talk at UIW in March of 2018, where he will detail the expansive relationship among astronomy, geography, mathematics, history, art, the San Antonio River and native peoples.
The discoveries he’s made shed light not only on San Antonio’s past, but on its future. “They offer us a peek into the future, not just next year or 20 years from now, but 300 years from now.” Gary explains that the Missions and rock art will always function as timepieces, and represent a promise from his ancestors.
“When our ancestors created that painting on the wall, they were thinking about us. And they were hoping that we would pick it up just in time to pass it on into the next 4,295 years.”
Gary Perez will be presenting on his research on March 24th, 2018 from 8:00PM-9:30PM at the University of the Incarnate Word. Perez will explain how the Lower Pecos rock art, tied to the San Antonio River, shares the origin story of Coahuiltecan people that pilgrimaged to the Blue Hole when the city was founded. Click here for more information.
Top image: Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio