In the historic center of Quito, you’ll notice many stores and restaurants named for Cantuña, a man famous in Quiteño history. But his history is complex, with stories and legends changing depending on the person telling the tale.

According to our local guide, Adriana, Cantuña was a famous mestizo, a man of mixed race whose mother was indigenous and father of Spanish blood. According to other sources, he was the son of Hualca who helped the famous Incan general Rumiñahui hide the treasures of Quito from the Spanish conquistadors. But most legends seem to agree on the following part of the story.

The Legend of Cantuña

One day, the head priest of Quito came to Cantuña to ask if he would build the atrium for the future San Francisco Church. Cantuña proudly claimed, «Si, por cierto!»

Thus, the priest contracted him for this very important job. However, 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 so he turned to God and prayed. Unfortunately, God did not answer.

So he prayed again. 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 Legend of Cantuña, Plaza San Francisco, Historic Center, Quito | ©Angela Drake
Iglesia San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

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. Therefore, 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 would be canceled. 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 began. 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 nothing.

Morning arrived and the Devil and Cantuña met at the base of the newly built Atrium. The Devil asked him 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 the sixth time, the contract was broken. Cantuña walked away, soul intact and a job well done.

This article was originally published in April 2013

It has since been updated with new photos, corrected grammar, and information about Sikimira. 

Legends in Pillows

An Ecuadorian artist has started her own business making textile products like purses and pillows that incorporate Ecuadorian traditions and icons. You can purchase the Devil Pillow with Cantuña and much more on her website, or visit her workshop in Quito at Jerónimo Carrión N 22-14 in between Avenida 12 de Octubre y Tamayo. She is open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6:30 pm and can be contacted by telephone at 02-544-898 or 099-654-9383.

Cantuña Pillow made by Sikimira