Echoes at Midnight in Quarry Stone Streets

Marco Jiménez Hiriart

Legends of Morelia

I was visiting Morelia for the first time in several years and I could not help experiencing a strange sensation when I got off the bus that night. It was a sensation of apartness that started to fade out when I was inside the cab on my way to the hotel. As we were leaving the station behind, I felt I was being welcomed back into a city I knew well. Or so I thought.

Morelia, MichoacanThe driver was an old man, with a gray mustache and a serene expression. His robust hands, full of wrinkles, were on the steering wheel. His conversation was interesting and drew me in immediately. He told me that he used to be a history teacher and had worked all his life at the Michoacan University. After he retired, he bought a taxi.

"To entertain my self and earn a little cash," he said staring ahead. "What are you doing here young man?"

Church of La MercedAs we were approaching downtown, the memories transported me to other times. We were driving by the landmarks and on the streets where many significant characters of Mexican history used to walk down, including intellectuals, politicians, religious figures, artists, revolutionaries, cristeros, doctors, teachers and criminals, mixing among the general populace. At this hour, there were no people walking around, just cars running down the avenue. Lonely anonymous travelers.

The taxi stopped at the light at Madero Avenue, right in front of the Merced Church. The driver crossed himself and out of the corner of his eye, looked to see if I had done the same. I hesitated and his expression turned stern, as if he were about to yell at me. He then told me the following story:

"A long time ago, in 18th century, the Catholic Church finished the construction of this temple. Next to it, there was a monastery of the mercedarios, people who were in charge of the parish. It was since then that a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin of the Mercedes with the Baby Jesus in her arms was venerated there. The little baby wore an expression that radiated compassion and a sort of saintliness. He was so beautiful that instead of eyes, he had stones that shone brightly."

The stoplight turned green, interrupting the driver who had shifted into first and stepped lightly on the gas pedal. He drove slowly, as if he wanted to stall for time to finish his story.

The Blind Holy Child"One day, during the colonial period," he went on, "a heavy downpour fell on the city. It was so dark that the afternoon merged with the night. Because of the noise, the priests did not realize that there was a thief hiding inside of the church when they closed the doors. The Mercedes Festivity was going to take place and the Blessed Virgin looked very beautiful that night, dressed up with her fancy clothes. This pitiless man committed his theft at midnight. He snatched her jewels and put them in a sack. Some people say that the Baby Jesus broke out into tears, which is why the bandit cut the child's eyes out with a knife. The poor child started to cry even louder. The criminal was desperate and threw the statue inside the bag and ran away to the Punhuato Hill. There, he mutilated and abandoned the body. Later, the statue was found and taken to the Capuchina nuns for restoration. They, however, did not dare to put anything into those empty eye sockets. They painted eyelids instead, accentuating the bitterness of the small face. Ever since, the Blind Holy Child, with his infinite mercy, has granted miracles to people seeking his help. With no eyes, he has been the light of the needy people. You should visit him. It'll be good for you, believe me. There you will see the gifts of his grateful followers."

We arrived to the entrance of the hotel and the old man helped me with my luggage. We shook hands and he wished me a good stay. As I watched him leave, a stabbing distress invaded my chest.

Spell of La MercedAfter a while, I went out to a tavern near the Conservatory, where I would meet with old friends. We had a couple of beers and said goodbye. It was close to midnight. The moonlight illuminated Morelia so I decided to go to my hotel on foot. I thought that walking a few blocks would clear my mind and allow me to sleep well. I passed a garden known as the Jardin de las Rosas and went to the main avenue. At Madero Street, I turned right and headed to the west of the city, towards the hotel, passing Nigromante Street. To look at the architecture at this late hour made the journey worthwhile. Standing opposite the Merced Church, I stared at the building. The lighting gave it with a magical aura, marking the shapes of the interweaving stones. A soft breeze shook me out of my spell and I went down the street.

Enchantments of MichoacanI left the chapel behind me and at that moment, a cloud blocked the moon and the light turned dim. Suddenly, I heard a shriek behind me. It sounded like a baby crying. The air got dense and my hair started to stand on end. I did not know if that noise was of a hungry child, a cat in heat, a figment of my imagination or all of the above. I quickened my pace, not looking back. At the corner, I saw the lights of a car approaching. I pulled my hands out of my pockets, hoping it was a taxi. It wasn't so I walked even faster. I got to my room, exhausted, and I fell on my bed and into a deep sleep. I was enveloped in darkness, surrounded by inanimate figures, inert human shapes with petrified faces and stiff extremities, figures that might have, at one point, been alive.

Narrow Streets of MoreliaEarly in the morning, free of imaginary apprehensions, I took a walk down the same streets as the night before. Those places did not loose their mysticism over the course of the night. I had coffee for breakfast at the Jardin de las Rosas and was still thinking about that story which still floated inside my head. For the rest of the day, I walked about the narrow streets of Morelia, following the puzzle of quarry stones. I was passing by the people whose echoes resounded by day as strange voices might do at night. It was barely dark when I headed to my hotel. I got into bed with the bedside lamp on, hoping it would dispel any possible fears.