Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 22
horses fishing for the grass that grows in the bottom; they thrust in their heads until their eyes were in the water, and then pulled out a mouthful of grass; they made a beautiful picture. Baths are situated here, and trees grow around just plentiful enough to be pretty. Foot logs span the stream, and the cool, green, velvety plots invite a longer stay.
On one foot log we discovered what appeared to be walking leaves, as the green leaves glided along, moved by an unseen power. Investigation proved them to be an army of ants, each one carrying a leaf on its back which looked like a little sail. On the edge of the bank, half in the water, half out, lay a branch of willow. These little things climbed it, risking life and limb, and, cutting off a leaf, hoisted it on their backs and marched easily a quarter of a mile to their home. They had a path of road about five inches wide made along the grass all the distance. The street cleaners must be faithful, as it was as clean as could be, shaded on either side by the grass, without one blade in their way. They crossed the foot log and disappeared in a hole at the other end. We wondered what they were making inside with those many leaves. They were so interesting at their work that it was with reluctance we left them. Boarding our train, with much regret, we were soon lost to sight of the Valley of Orizaba and were once more on our way to a new and strange city.
THE WONDERS OF PUEBLA.
If the innocent-looking tourists believed all that is told them here they would conclude that every spot and town of interest had been built by the Virgin and the angels. One night many, many years ago, so the story runs, one good priest, who was known by the name of Motolinia, which means humble, mean, lowly, had a vision. A number of sweet angels—all of the feminine gender—draped with some soft, thin material, with long, silky black hair that fell to their feet in heavy folds, and sparkling black eyes, took the good father in their arms and bore him through the air to a spot not far distant from his little hut. After setting up a stone cross, which, at their petition, apparently descended from the skies, they helped him to build churches, houses, factories, and bullrings (perhaps). It took seven days and the same number of nights to build the world, but the city of Puebla was built in a few moments. Probably the fatigue from work or the unusual company made the good man tired and drowsy, so he fell asleep, as sweetly as a babe, fanned by the wings of the heavenly beings around him. Waking from a most refreshing nap, in which he had dreamed of honey, golden crowns, feathered wings, and regiments of beautiful creatures, he found to his surprise that he was once again in his little bed, with no angels in sight. "They have gone out to complete the work, while I, lazy creature, slept," thought the good father, and going to the window he flung it open. He saw the green plain undisturbed.
At first he was surprised and disappointed, and had he been a dyspeptic all would have ended there, and this story would not have to be told; but, like a good and faithful believer, he worked out a solution of the strange vision, which was that the angels had appeared to show they wanted the work done and how, but he must accomplish it himself. To prove beyond doubt their visit, the stone cross was left standing where their angelic hands had placed it. So encouraged, and with great faith, he related his vision to the people, and with their aid began to build the city of Puebla around the stone cross, leaving more than a square vacant where it stood. This was three hundred and fifty-five years ago, on the 16th of April. The square is now used for the city market, and the stone cross, revered and respected, is standing in the courtyard of what was the convent of Santo Domingo, but now a church, where at the same place they will take from the altar and show you a coat which was once worn by a very holy monk, and for some good act the Virgin stamped her picture on the sleeve of it. It is very interesting to look at, even if one be so unfortunate as to possess but little faith; the most interesting thing in Puebla is its churches. Every one has some wonderful tale attached.
Puebla was named in honor of its first visitors, Puebla de los Angles (Town of the Angels), but it is very seldom spoken of except as Puebla. The corner-stone of the first church was laid in 1531, and that of the first cathedral in 1536. Both of these buildings have disappeared, as they were originally, though it is proven that part of the former is the present Sagrario, covered with parasites and in almost utter ruins. The present cathedral was finished in 1649, and is one of the finest and most expensive in Mexico. One of its towers alone cost $100,000. The high altar, composed of Mexican marble and onyx, is one of the finest ever constructed. It is said to have cost $200,000. This altar, before the reform, was loaded with gold, silver, and jewels. The bishops' sepulcher is beneath. A beautiful carving in ivory of the Virgin, which was completed after three years' hard labor, and a wonderful curtain, which was a present from the King of Spain, as well as the dungeons beneath, are a few of the things worth seeing. It has eighteen bells. The largest weighs nine tons.
The Chapel of Conquistadora contains an image of the Senora de los Remedios, which was presented by Cortes to the Hascallan, Don Axotecatl Cocomitzin, for his good help and friendship during the time of the bitter war with the other natives. Upon the main altar lie the remains of the man who first introduced oxen into Mexico, and who for many years was the means of passage and communication between Mexico and Vera Cruz. His name was Sebastian de Aparicio. He was born in 1502, and died, after living a good and useful life, in 1600. At the Dominican Monastery they showed half the handkerchief on which the Virgin wept and wiped her eyes at the foot of the cross. The people claim that San Jose protects their town from lightning, so they built a church named in his honor, and have in it a strange image carved from what was a lightning-riven tree. Another beautiful church has a picture of a saint which has been heard to speak. Still another contains thorns from the crown of Christ. Nearly every two squares boasts a church, and every church has some wonderful history connected with it. The Church of San Francisco, which was founded by the good priest, Motolinia, the father of Puebla, was established a short time after the city, and is worth seeing, if from nothing else than an architectural point of view. The choir is the most wonderful thing in existence. It is flat and looks as though it would tumble down every moment; even the man who built it fled for fear it would fall, when taking out the supporting beams, and kill them all. The monks then decided to burn them down, and then if the choir fell no one would be hurt. Well, they burned and crumbled down, but the choir still remained firm, and does to this day, after at least two hundred and fifty years of constant use.
Puebla is fully seventy miles from the City of Mexico and is the capital of the state of the same name. It is one of the cleanest and prettiest towns in the republic, and has at the least 80,000 inhabitants. It is full of interesting historical events. Cortes located here; General de Zaragoza won a victory over the French here on the 5th of May, 1862, and General Diaz, now President, won a more brilliant victory and gained greater fame for himself here in the war five years later, April 2, 1867. Both events are celebrated in fine style every year. Puebla is not situated on the main line of the Vera Cruz line, but connects with a narrow gauge which runs to Apizaco, twenty-nine miles distant. It takes from 4:40 to 6:10 to make the trip, but one forgets the length of time by looking at the beautiful valley which surrounds them. When we were out a short distance, by looking back over the way we traveled, we saw between two large hills, surrounded by trees, flowers and rocks, the Cascade del Molino de San Diego, showing just over the top of the falling waters a fine old stone mill inclosed with a variety of different green trees, all of which seem to be springing out of the waters whose fall faces us. Next we pass the pretty little village of Santa Ana, interesting not only because it is named in honor of the old warrior, but for its people and the many odd things which they make so deftly and sell to passing tourists, Mexican drinks and ice cream, called agua a nieve (snow water), made simply by pouring sweetened and flavored milk over snow which is brought down from the Volcano Popocatapetl and the White Lady.
Between here and our destination we can see by the door of every little hut a large clay object shaped somewhat like an urn, taller even than the houses; they are, translated into English, "Keepers," and hold the water used by the people; they have no wells, as they carry their supply from a river many miles away, hemmed in on either side by a deep bluff. Although water is very scarce in the majority of places in Mexico, this is the only spot where one finds the keepers. Another town and we enter the city of Puebla, as it nestles down between a chain of mountains like a kitten in the sun. With a view from some high tower, it looks like a flower garden, dotted here and there with picturesque houses. On the west is Popocatapetl and Ixtaelhuatl, sending down an ever-cool and invigorating breeze, which plays with their snowy robes, and then descends into the green valley to salute the hot brows of mortals there with a kiss of health and happiness.
The coat of arms was given to Puebla by Charles V. of Spain, in July, 1538. Of the inhabitants thirty thousand seven hundred are men and thirty-seven thousand eight hundred and thirty women, besides more than thirteen thousand people who work in public establishments, which number in all about one hundred. There are paper, cotton, flour and wax taper mills. The people are very religious, and fall on their knees when the bishop's carriage passes, even if it is unoccupied. They have plenty of policemen at night, though nearly everybody has retired by 10 o'clock, and not only are they on the streets, but on the housetops. We saw the little red lanterns blazing forth from almost every other house, and being of an inquisitive turn we made inquiries and learned the above facts. They look very odd, and on a dark night one can see nothing but the red light gleaming forth like a danger signal. The policemen are all well armed, but it strikes an American that the lanterns are displayed so that their owners cannot accidentally get hurt. The city supports several free hospitals; the finest one was established a few years since, and is the best building of the kind in Mexico. Three days after the death of Luis Rharo, a bachelor of considerable wealth, they found in his Bible a will leaving one hundred thousand dollars to build this home and one hundred thousand dollars to be invested and used to maintain the same.
The three men named as executors—Clemente Lopez, A. P. Marin, and V. Gutiores—all were all wealthy, but were to receive for managing and looking after the home, $15,000 a piece; the building alone was to cost $40,000, and after it was finished the contractor, E. Tamaris, would accept no pay and allowed the price to go back into the original sum. The building is marble, the floor marble tile, the decorations carved onyx, and this palatial mansion is to-day the home of hundreds of poverty stricken and deserted mothers and babies. When Mexico feels charitably inclined she does it on a grand scale—no half-way business, like in many places in the States.
The houses here generally two-story, with flat roofs, and fronts inlaid with highly glazed tile or else gandily painted. All the windows facing the street have iron balconies, and all the courts are filled with flowers, birds and fountains. There were once seventy-two churches, nine monasteries and thirty nunneries, but the latter have been abolished, and, with the exception of a half dozen, they are used as churches. One is a round house for the engines, another formed the theater for the bull ring. There are but two small Protestant churches, which are not well attended. Since the rebellion there have been established 1800 schools, with an attendance of only 36,000 children. The College of Medicine and Academy of Arts and Science are maintained at the expense of the town, free to all who care to go.
The famous pyramid of Cholula is but eight miles from the city. Street cars run out about four times a day and charge fifty cents, first-class, a trip. On the way we passed a large rock which has caused a sensation lately. It is about two hundred feet high and at the very least six hundred feet around the base. It looks very strange lying on an otherwise level green space for acres around. The stone is covered with parasitical orchids and ferns and has been known to the oldest natives by the name of Cascomate. No one ever thought much about it except to wonder how such an immense rock got into an otherwise reckless spot. Some advanced the opinion that it had been thrown there during one of the eruptions of Popocatapeti, when it merited the name of "the smoking mountain." A German who spends much of his time searching for the queer in Mexico thought one morning as he was taking a walk, about ten days ago, that he would climb to the top of this rock and take a view of the valley. The ascent was very difficult, but he persevered and on reaching the top was surprised to find a big opening yawning at his feet. The stench coming from it was very strong, so lighting his strongest cigar, he began to investigate. The opening was about fifty feet in circumference, and easily the same depth. At the bottom were lying several skeletons. He quickly returned to town and reported his discovery, but so far no investigations have been made. One man who was talking over it said: "Please do not put it in your paper, because Mexico has a nasty name for foreigners now. That stone," he continued, "was used by duelists to hide their victim's body, and when the people perceived a stench they reported it to the police, who always investigated and had the body buried."
"If that is true, why is it that everybody considers the find new and startling, and no one has come forth to say he knows what use it was put to before this? If the police investigated and took out the bodies, why did they not have the hole filled up, and why are there so many skeletons in it at the present day?"
He did not try to answer these questions, but only begged our silence.
Cholula retains little of its old-time grandeur. At the commencement of the sixteenth century Cortes compared it, to the largest cities of Spain, but with the growth of Puebla it has diminished, until the present day it is but a small village. Its streets are broad and unpaved, the houses one story with flat roofs, and there is little to attract one—although they have some few manufacturers—except the world-famous pyramid and some of the old churches. One of these churches was formerly a fortification built by Cortes. It is a fine, massive stone building of immense size. Perfect cannon of medium size answer for water-spouts on the roof. In the door of the main entrance there are 375 nails, no two of which are alike. When the building was being erected there were many skilled blacksmiths in the vicinity. Each was desirous of showing his skill, so with chisel and hammer they made these long nails and presented them to the conqueror, making the door one of the strange things of Mexico.
In another church near here, also erected at the command of Cortes, is a black velvet altar cloth, with saints