In 1933 a 25-year-old priest arrived from Irapuato to serve in the Parroquia of Saint Michael the Archangel. His name was Jose Mercadillo, and few imagined the impact he would have on San Miguel de Allende. At that time, a city the size of San Miguel was only allowed one practicing priest, and Enrique Larrea was already the parish priest. Mercadillo was tasked with organizing activities for Catholic lay groups, dedicated to restoring the power of the Church; chipped away by the anticlerical government in power. Mercadillo shone in this role. He eventually became parish priest, and remained in this position for many years.
Mercadillo wrote a number of books, most of them focused on the history and art of San Miguel de Allende and Atotonilco. But another book called Anecdotas sin importancia—Anecdotes without Importance, is a compilation of 24 unique tales, each giving an informal insight into some aspect of life in San Miguel during that time.
One story I found particularly interesting, and would like to relate here.
According to Mercadillo, a man had recently died, and it was rumored he had been killed by witchcraft. The gossip mongers were rife with stories about his untimely death; some claiming it was due to a deadly herb, incantation, or other black magic.
Self-portrait A friend of the recently deceased man, told Mercadillo that he believed his friend was buried in the cave of Meco.
The man explained that “There’s a rag doll that they make, dressed with a piece of cloth from the person they want to harm or bewitch, then they puncture it with pins or thorns and even nails, and then they bury it…”
“Is this what they call voodoo?” the priest asked.
When the man answered affirmatively, Mercadillo said: “Well, then let’s go to the cave and we’ll see if that’s where they have buried the doll that represented your friend.”
I will let Mercadillo relate his story in his own words.
We…began our excursion both interesting, and risky, on a calm April afternoon. The sun shone splendidly, and we took off from the park heading toward Camino Viejo de Queretaro, and began climbing on foot along the ancient Caracol. The mourning doves and pigeons sang their peculiar tones and one or another small bird flew frightened before us. My friend Benigno had come prepared with rocks to scare off the dogs that would come out barking at us from time to time, and I with a cane in hand, came prepared with my Holy Christ missal, a bit of holy water and a manual. Sometimes in silence, and at other times remembering the friend whose life in the final years had been so tormented, and sometimes making fun of our endeavor, we reached the place where we would leave el Caracol, and continued along a path that led to the hill and the aforementioned cave.
Along our route we saw traces of bonfires where, according to Benigno, the sorcerers pass the night when they are on their way to do their “work.” In those places at that hour, solitude was breathtaking, the profound silence of the mountain only allowed us to hear our own steps, moved us with the solemn repetition of the echo in space.
We finally arrived to the cave of Meco and we actually found not one, but many places where there was a pile of dirt, branches of spearmint, some already dried, and others still fresh. There were tallow candles which had been extinguished without having burned completely, others with the tallow melted and the wick completely burnt. The rocks of the cave were covered in soot.
“These are the graves,” my friend said.
Mercadillo then describes how they began digging and what they found.
In one of these burial places we took out a rag doll that was dressed like a lord: black jacket, tie, striped pants, a little handkerchief inside the pocket on the left side, a flower in the buttonhole and gaiters. A piece of paper attached with a pin, on the back of the doll said: “what I wish for you, for disgracing me, is that you rot, you big-bellied old man.” And the voodoo doll had a giant belly.
This particular man had indeed died with a giant belly that practically reached his knees. But also, the poor man, whom God has forgiven, was very abusive. There was not a maid that he did not turn into his lover and surely many of them…
I made no comment about this and when I pulled out another doll, my friend, looking closely at it told me, quite moved, showing surprise and disgust at the same time: “Look at this, this was…”
“Well, how could it not be?”
It was a doll of approximately twenty centimeters in length, dressed like his friend used to be and with a giant thorn stuck in the head and everywhere else many tiny pins and in the belly a tack and other thorns. The feet and hands were tied with silk thread.
“Oh, how horrible this is!” I said. “There is nothing else to do but to bless this place where surely the devil dwells.”
I put on my stole, and took my manual and the holy water. My friend lit a candle, and took into his hands the Holy Christ, I blessed the place and screamed as hard as I could: “Out of here Satan! From now on this cave shall be called the cave of San Ignacio.” We placed a tiny statue of the most holy Virgin Mary in the interior of the cave, and in the distance as the sun continued to set, the echo of my voice continued repeating: The cave of San Ignacio…the cave of San Ignacio…”
Illustration from Anecdotes without Importance
A view from above, looking east
I wanted to see this strange cave, not because I believe such crazy tales, but to verify if such a cave even existed. On September 11, 2018, my husband Dennis, and I met with Denver (of Denver’s Olivos restaurant) who had agreed to take us to La Cueva del Meco—Meco’s cave, where he used to go when he was a kid. He said the term meco is an all-encompassing term for a scary, haunted place. It’s the last part of Chichimeco— a male member of the ancient Chichimeca tribe. We took a cab to the turnoff, across from El Mirador. A 45 minute walk on an upward path along the mountain, brought us to a small grotto. Denver inspected it, and declared: “This isn’t it. We need to keep going up.”
We gaped within but saw nothing. We threw in rocks and waited, but there was no sound. Perhaps it was extremely deep, or the surface below was soft; there was no way to find out. We continued our climb, sometimes on all fours. Finally, along a steep ridge, we found an opening.
“This is the place,” Denver announced. We scrambled up to the entrance which was narrow, and vertically oval-shaped. One would have to enter sideways. After having checked the previous cave, we decided that going in was not wise. What if there was a major drop? This is a visit for an experienced spelunker with the right equipment—a rope, a good flashlight, at the very least.
On the ridge with Denver A view of Meco’s Cave