Legends of the City of Mexico | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in July 2019 with all known ATU Classifications. Further study of ML Types is recommended.

Legend of the Mujer Herrada

I DO not know when this matter happened, Señor; but my grandfather, who told me about it, spoke as though all three of them--the priest, and the blacksmith, and the woman--had lived a long while before his time. However, my grandfather said that the priest and the woman, who was his housekeeper, pretty certainly lived in a house--it is gone now, Señor--that was in the street that is called the Puerta Falsa de Santo Domingo. And he said that the blacksmith certainly did live in a house in the Calle de las Rejas de la Balvanera--because he himself had seen the house, and had seen the farrier's knife and the pincers cut on the stone arching above the door. Therefore you perceive, Señor, that my grandfather was well acquainted with these people, and that this story is true.

                The priest was a secular, Señor, not belonging to any Order; and he and the blacksmith were compadres together--that is to say, they were close friends. It was because the blacksmith had a great liking for his compadre, and a great respect for him, that from time to time he urged him to send away the housekeeper; but his compadre always had some pleasant excuse to make about the matter, and so the blacksmith would be put off. And things went on that way for a number of years.

                Now it happened, on a night, that the blacksmith was wakened out of his sleep by a great pounding at the door of his house; and when he got up and went to his door he found standing there two blacks--they were men whom he never had laid eyes on--and with them was a she mule that they had brought to be shod. The blacks made their excuses to him politely for waking him at that bad hour: telling him that the mule belonged to his compadre, and had been sent to him to be shod in the night and in a hurry because his compadre of a sudden had occasion to go upon a journey, and that he must start upon his journey very early on the morning of the following day. Then the blacksmith, looking closely at the mule, saw that she really was the mule of his compadre; and so, for friendship's sake, he shod her without more words. The blacks led the mule away when the shoeing was finished; and, as they went off into the night with her, they fell to beating her so cruelly with heavy sticks that the blacksmith talked to them with great severity. But the blacks kept on beating the mule, and even after they were lost in the darkness the blacksmith continued to hear the sound of their blows.

                In some ways this whole matter seemed so strange to the blacksmith that he wanted to know more about it. Therefore he got up very early in the morning and went to his compadre's house: meaning to ask him what was the occasion of this journey that had to be taken in such a hurry, and who those strange blacks were who so cruelly had beaten his meritorious mule. But when he was come to the house he had to wait a while before the door was opened; and when at last it did open, there was his compadre half asleep--and his compadre said that he was not going on any journey, and that most certainly he had not sent his mule to be shod. And then, as he got wider awake, he began to laugh at the blacksmith because of the trick that had been put upon him; and that the woman might share in the joke of it--they all were great friends together--he knocked at the door of her room and called to her. But the woman did not answer back to him; and when he knocked louder and louder she still gave no sign.

                Then he, and the blacksmith too, became anxious about the woman; and together they opened the door and went into the room. And what they saw when they were come into the room, Señor, was the most terrible sight that ever was seen in this world! For there, lying upon her bed, was that unhappy woman looking all distraught and agonized; and nailed fast to the feet and to the hands of her were the very same iron shoes that the blacksmith--who well knew his own forge-work--had nailed fast to the hoofs of the mule! Moreover, upon her body were the welts and the bruises left there when the blacks had beaten the mule with their cruel blows. And the woman, Señor, was as dead as she possibly could be. So they knew that what had happened was a divine punishment, and that the blacks were two devils who had changed the woman into a mule and so had taken her to be shod.

                Perceiving, because of such a sign being given him, Señor, that he had committed an error, the master of that house of horror immediately went out from it--and at once disappeared completely and never was heard of again. As for the blacksmith, he was so pained by his share in the matter that always afterward, until the death of him, he was a very unhappy man. And that is the story of the Iron-shod Woman, Señor, from first to last.


Doubtless this legend has for its foundation an ancient real scandal: that--being too notorious to be hushed up--of set purpose was given to the public in a highly edifying way. Certainly, the story seems to have been put in shape by the clerics--the class most interested in checking such open abuses--with the view of driving home a deterrent moral by exhibiting so exemplary a punishment of sin.

                Substantially as in the popular version that I have used in my text, Don Francisco Sedano (circa 1760) tells the story in his delightful "Noticias de México"--a gossiping chronicle that, on the dual ground of kindly credulity and genial inaccuracy, cannot be commended in too warm terms.

                "In the years 1670-1680, as I have verified," Sedano writes, "there happened in this City of Mexico a formidable and fearful matter"; and without farther prelude he tells the story practically as I have told it, but in much plainer language, until he reaches the climax: when the priest and the blacksmith try to awaken the woman that she may enjoy the joke with them. Thence he continues: "When a second call failed to arouse her they looked at her more closely, and found that she was dead; and then, examining her still more closely, they found nailed fast to her hands and to her feet the four iron shoes. Then they knew that divine justice thus had afflicted her, and that the two blacks were demons. Being overcome with horror, and not knowing what course to follow in a situation so terrible, they agreed to go together for counsel to Dr. Don Francisco Ortiz, cura of the parish church of Santa Catarina; and him they brought back with them. On their return, they found already in the house Father José Vidal, of the Company of Jesus, and with him a Carmelite monk who also had been summoned. [By whom summoned is not told.] All of them together examining the woman, they saw that she had a bit in her mouth [the iron shoes on her hands and feet are not mentioned] and that on her body were the welts left by the blows which the demons had given her when they took her to be shod in the form of a mule. The three aforesaid [the Cura, Father Vidal, and the Carmelite] then agreed that the woman should be buried in a pit, that they then dug, within the house; and that upon all concerned in the matter should be enjoined secrecy. The terrified priest, trembling with fear, declared that he would change his life--and so left the house, and never appeared again."

                Sedano documents the story with facts concerning the reputable clerics concerned in it, writing: "Dr. Ortiz, cura de Santa Catarina, being internally moved [by what he had seen] to enter into religion, entered the Company of Jesus; wherein he continued, greatly esteemed and respected, until his death at the age of eighty-four years. He referred always to this case with amazement. A memoir of Father José Vidal, celebrated for his virtues and for his preaching, was written by Father Juan Antonio de Oviedo, of the Company of Jesus, and was printed in the College of San Yldefonso in the year 1752. In that memoir, chapter viii, p. 41, this case is mentioned; a record of it having been found among the papers of Father Vidal." Sedano adds that he himself heard the case referred to in a Lenten sermon preached by a Jesuit Father in the church of the Profesa in the year 1760.

                Sedano farther writes: "In the Calle de las Rejas de la Balvanera is a casa de vecindad [tenement house] that formerly was called the Casa del Pujabante: because a pujabante and tenazos [farrier's knife and pincers] were carved on the stone lintel of the doorway. This carving I have seen many times. It was said to mark the house in which the blacksmith lived, in memory of the shoeing of the woman there. The house [the site is that of the present No. 5] has been repaired and the carving has been obliterated. In the street of the Puerta Falsa de Santo Domingo, along the middle of which anciently ran a ditch, facing the Puerta Falsa, was an old tumble-down house [the site is that of the present No. 7] wherein lived, as I was told by an antiquarian friend, the priest and the woman. This is probable: because Father Vidal tells that the house was near the parish church of Santa Catarina; and for that reason Dr. Ortiz, the cura of that church, would be likely to make notes of an occurrence in his own parish."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Legend of the Mujer Herrada
Tale Author/Editor: Janvier, Thomas A.
Book Title: Legends of the City of Mexico
Book Author/Editor: Janvier, Thomas A.
Publisher: Harper & Brothers
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1910
Country of Origin: Mexico
Classification: unclassified

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