In the historic center of Quito, you’ll notice many stores and restaurants names for Cantuña, a man famous in Quiteño history. According to our Spanish speaking guide, Adriana, Cantuña was a famous mestizo, a man of mixed parentage whose mother was of indigenous origins and father of Spanish blood. According to other sources, he was the son of Hualca who had helped the famous Incan general Rumiñahui hide the treasures of Quito from the Spanish conquistadors. But all legends seem to agree on the rest of the story.
One day, the head priest of Quito came to him to ask if he could build the Atrium for the future Cathedral San Francisco. He proudly claimed, yes, of course he could and the priest contracted him to do the job. As time passed, Cantuña realized that he had promised too much and that he would not finish the job in the required time. He would need help to complete the job so he turned to God and prayed for help. Unfortunately, God did not answer.
So he prayed again. And still no answer.
He prayed yet again. And still, God remained silent.
So Cantuña thought very hard and decided that if God was not going to answer that he needed to turn in another direction, so he asked for the Devil’s help instead.
The Devil immediately appeared and the two began the process of hammering out a contract. Of course, in return for finishing the Atrium, the Devil wanted Cantuña’s soul. It couldn’t be otherwise. So Cantuña agreed but with one caveat, if the Devil and his diablitos (little devils) did not place every piece of brick and mortar by the tolling of the first bell at 6 am, then the deal was cancelled. The Devil laughed, knowing that his diablitos were the most excellent stone masons and could finish the work in no time at all.
And so the contract was sealed and the work begun. Cantuña kept his eye on the progress and while walking among the diablitos, he managed to remove one stone from a finished wall where the mortar was not yet dry. He slipped it under his poncho and hid it from view. The diablitos were so busy working that they noticed not a thing.
Morning arrived and the Devil and Cantuña met at the base of the newly built Atrium. The Devil asked Cantuña if he was ready to part with his soul. As the first sound of the six o’clock bell chimed, Cantuña laughed and asked the Devil if he would like to take a closer look at the newly built walls. Low and behold, there was a single stone missing and as the bell rang a last time, the contract was broken. Cantuña walked away, soul intact and job well done.