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  • Natalie Taylor


El Puente del Fraile

Not all San Miguel ghost stories take place within the narrow confines of the urban area. Some reside on the outskirts, in the waters, on bridges, and in the nearby mountains. These stories, told for many years, some as long as a few centuries, put fear in the hearts of travelers around San Miguel.

One of these stories goes back almost 500 years, to the events that took place in 1574. That year, the parish of San Miguel el Grande—what our city was called in those days—had requested a sculpture of Jesus for the Parroquia. It was a very special sculpture, made of corn paste, a technique that was only done in Patzcuaro, Michoacan. Two, almost identical figures of Jesus on the cross were being transported; one destined for San Miguel and the other for the town of San Felipe. Two friars were carrying the sculptures along the well-traveled Camino Real de Tierra Adentro—the Royal Inland road. They reached a stone bridge going over an arroyo. It was a narrow, elevated path, just as it is today, and it was right here that they were ambushed by Chichimeca warriors who were waging war against the Spanish conquerors. The two friars were killed—they say they died embracing the figures—and that their blood has remained on the sculptures.

Inside the Parroquia, on a high wall facing the altar, a mural done in the 1960s depicts the historic scene. It is not a work of great quality, but it is the only pictorial record of that event.

The figures were ultimately recovered, and placed in the respective churches of both towns. The Senor de la Conquista still hangs on the wall of the Parroquia to this day. The two friars were buried in the church of San Rafael.

But the story did not end there, because soon reports came of hauntings. Travelers claimed to see a friar standing on the bridge, asking for a ride, and a number of carriages with their horses, fell over the sides. These accidents have continued over the centuries. Even at present, the story is fueled by the fact that many automobile accidents have occurred along that narrow, elevated bridge. The tale persists to this day, and many “brave” young people insist on visiting the site, some twenty minutes outside San Miguel, on the way to Celaya. They dare each other to cross the bridge in the dead of night.

The infamous “Puente del Fraile”—the Friar’s bridge, has seen many cars careen down the steep embankment, with the victims, if they survived, swearing that a friar stood before them, and caused them to lose control of their vehicle. Care to check it out yourself?

The Legend of El Chan

Some ghostly apparitions don’t stay in one place, they haunt many parts of the country, and appear in different places from time to time. The next two appear in, or near, bodies of water.

La Llorona, a haunted spirit whose story goes back to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, is a good example of a ghost that shows up on different sites. Her story is so old that she was mentioned by the friar Bernardo de Sahagun, a Spanish priest who arrived in New Spain in 1529. He learned the language of the Mexica, and was thus able to record the beliefs, worldview, and historical accounts of the native population at the time of the conquest.

During the next 50 years he documented all he learned in a mammoth manuscript, the Florentine Codex, filled with the information he had gathered, and illustrated by native artists. In his writings, Bernardo de Sahagun ties the story of La Llorona to pre-Hispanic origins. La Llorona is a roaming spirit, and may appear anywhere in Mexico, wailing for the death of her children. As I told in a previous article, she tends to appear where there is natural water and has even shown up near Parque Juarez on occasion.

The story of “el Chan del agua,” the Chan of waters, is ancient as well. This strange creature may be one, or several beings who show up in many parts of Mexico, as well as in our very own San Miguel de Allende.

The story of el Chan originated in Apaseo el Alto, a town around 70 kilometers south of San Miguel. It is an area full of crystal clear waters, and natural springs. With the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the increased population brought a greater need for water, and many wells were dug, which began to affect the ecosystem. It was during this time that people began to see this strange creature in the waters of the area.

According to local narrative, a group of three inebriated men decided to spy on this creature. Those fellows, did indeed spot it, but each of them had a different description. You may have noted that the most reliable accounts of legends seem to come from sightings by drunks….

One described him as having the head of a bull, with brilliant fiery eyes. Another said that it looked like a giant water snake, with blue eyes. And the third said it looked like a massive toad, with slimy green skin. After these initial sightings, more people saw the apparition, and added details to the legend. What became more disturbing was that people began to disappear in those waters, and the blame was always laid on the Chan.

Some claimed it was a giant star glimmering in the water, and anyone who looked at it would be hypnotized, and fall in. Others said that if you stared into the waters, in the depths you would spot precious stones in vivid colors, but if you put your hand down to pick them, the Chan would grab you, and pull you under.

Then came stories about how to pacify the Chan, if there was a need to enter the waters, as in maintaining the aqueduct. After heavy rains, workers often needed to wade into the waters to remove the mud that had been brought down into the spring. While men worked, another man played a flute to pacify the Chan—the king and owner of all waters.

Over time the Chan made his appearance in other nearby areas, and one of those places is the Charco del Ingenio.

As you walk along the ravine, you will come upon a spot from which you can look down on a body of water, far below.

They say that once in a while the Chan emerges from these waters, and attempts to entice onlookers with valuables. Those who fall for this ruse, and climb down into the ravine to get hold of those goods, are snatched up by the Chan, and disappear forever.

Two pieces of evidence confirm this. First of all, there is an official sign above the pool, naming and describing el Chan. There are also various warning not to go down. Obviously the officials know the dangers of an encounter with this creature.

If you are looking for further confirmation, I suggest you, or your friends, drink plenty of tequila, and look down the ravine. That is the optimal state for seeing the dreaded el Chan.

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