Humanities › History & Culture Ecuadorian Legend: The Story of Cantuña and the Devil Share Flipboard Email Print The Capilla de Cantuña chapel. David Adam Kess/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 History & Culture Latin American History South American History History Before Columbus Colonialism and Imperialism Caribbean History Central American History Mexican History American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Christopher Minster Professor of History and Literature Ph.D., Spanish, Ohio State University M.A., Spanish, University of Montana B.A., Spanish, Penn State University Christopher Minster, Ph.D., is a professor at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. He is a former head writer at VIVA Travel Guides. our editorial process Christopher Minster Updated March 26, 2019 Everyone in Quito, Ecuador, knows the story of Cantuña: it is one of the city's most beloved legends. Cantuña was an architect and builder who made a deal with the Devil … but got out of it through trickery. The Atrium of San Francisco Cathedral In downtown Quito, about two blocks away from the center of the old colonial city, is Plaza San Francisco, an airy plaza popular with pigeons, strollers, and those who want a nice outdoor cup of coffee. The western side of the plaza is dominated by the San Francisco Cathedral, a massive stone building and one of the first churches built in Quito. It’s still open and is a popular place for locals to hear mass. There are different areas of the church, including an old convent and an atrium, which is an open area just inside the cathedral. It is the atrium that is central to the story of Cantuña. Cantuña’s Task According to legend, Cantuña was a native builder and architect of great talent. He was hired by the Franciscans sometime during the early colonial era (construction took more than 100 years but the church was completed by 1680) to design and build the atrium. Although he worked diligently, it was slow going and it soon became apparent that he would not finish the project on time. He wished to avoid this, as he would not be paid at all if it were not ready on a certain date (in some versions of the legend, Cantuña would go to jail if the atrium was not completed on time). A Deal With the Devil Just as Cantuña despaired of completing the atrium on time, the Devil appeared in a puff of smoke and offered to make a deal. The Devil would finish the work overnight and the atrium would be ready on time. Cantuña, of course, would part with his soul. The desperate Cantuña accepted the deal. The Devil called in a large band of worker demons and they spent the whole night building the atrium. A Missing Stone Cantuña was pleased with the work but naturally began to regret the deal he had made. While the Devil was not paying attention, Cantuña leaned over and pried loose a stone out of one of the walls and hid it. As dawn broke on the day the atrium was to be given to the Franciscans, the Devil eagerly demanded payment. Cantuña pointed out the missing stone and claimed that since the Devil had not fulfilled his end of the deal, the contract was void. Foiled, the angry Devil disappeared in a puff of smoke. Variations on the Legend There are different versions of the legend that differ in small details. In some versions, Cantuña is the son of the legendary Inca General Rumiñahui, who foiled the Spanish conquistadors by hiding the gold of Quito (also allegedly with the help of the Devil). According to another telling of the legend, it was not Cantuña who removed the loose stone, but an angel sent to help him. In yet another version, Cantuña did not hide the stone once he removed it but instead wrote upon it something to the effect of "Whoever picks up this stone acknowledges that God is greater than he." Naturally, the Devil would not pick up the stone and was, therefore, prevented from fulfilling the contract. Visiting San Francisco Church The San Francisco Church and convent are open daily. The cathedral itself is free to visit, but there is a nominal fee to see the convent and museum. Fans of colonial art and architecture will not want to miss it. Guides will even point out a wall inside the atrium that is missing a stone: the very spot where Cantuña saved his soul!