A few nights ago, I found myself walking around the streets of downtown Mexico City looking for a place to have dinner in. While I walked along República de Uruguay street I was approached by a man in a heavy black cloak who asked me for the time. While perplexed at his appearance, I told him it was 11 p.m. He thanked me with a polite bow, turned around and left.
During my whole meal I couldn’t get the face of that gentleman out of my mind, until my curiosity was such that I had to ask the waiter what he knew. I told him what had just happened to me and I described the man’s out-of-this-time outfit. The waiter told me in a kind voice that I had nothing to worry about. “It was probably just Don Juan Manuel” he said, “he always asks a passerby for the time at precisely 11 o’clock at night”. Not quite understanding what I had just been told I asked him for more details and the kind waiter sat in front of me to tell me the legend I’m about to tell you.
Don Juan Manuel was a very fortunate man. He was the Viceroy’s right hand in Mexico, back when it was called Nueva España (New Spain), and he lived surrounded by wealth and comfort. He was even married to a beautiful woman called Marina, but there was sadness in both their hearts for his wife was unable to bear children. While trying to find some relief for his suffering, Don Juan Manuel went to live in a convent for a while.
To live in seclusion in a convent is a synonym to being completely isolated from the rest of the world, so Don Juan Manuel had one of his nephews brought over from Spain to take charge of the businesses he would leave unattended. Some people who were either enemies or jealous of Don Juan Manuel started spreading a rumour that his wife, Doña Marina, was cheating on him with his nephew.
When Don Manuel found out, in a blind rage and without regard to his being secluded in a convent he summoned the Devil himself and offered his soul in exchange for being able to get revenge on the ‘traitor’. The Devil, with a crooked smile and an evil laugh told him “go out at 11 p.m and kill the first man that you pass on the street”, and so he did.
When the clock chimed 11 times, Don Juan Manuel went out to the street and killed the first man he encountered, using a silver knife. In that moment the Devil appeared next to the dead body. He looked at him and gave the same cold, crooked smile before telling him
“This is not the man you’re looking for, Manuel. Go out every night precisely at eleven and kill the first man you encounter, and I’ll tell you when you’ve had your revenge”.
Blind with rage, Don Juan Manuel obeyed the Devil’s orders and for several nights, a man could be seen clad in a thick cloak standing in the shadows, waiting for an innocent man to walk by. When a passerby walked his way, he’d approach him silently and asked for the time. When he heard the answer he’d reply “Blessed be you who know the time of his own death”, and murder them in cold blood.
That’s how Don Juan Manuel spent his nights until one morning he received a visitor who informed him that his nephew had been murdered the night before. Horrified at his own actions, he went looking for shelter and consolation with the convent’s priest, who he told all that he’d done in the past nights. The priest told him that in penance he should go out for three nights and pray the Rosary three times in the public square, on the gallows.
Horrified at his own sins, Don Juan Manuel went to the public square to pray the 3 Rosaries, but it wasn’t as easy a task as he first thought. He had visions and hallucinations. The first night he saw with his own eyes a group of angels carrying a casket that contained his own body. He returned to the convent in fear.
The following night, bent on fulfilling the penance he had been tasked with, he returned to the public square, sitting right next to the gallows. Soon after starting his prayer, he heard a voice coming from nowhere. A hellish, cold voice, adorned with ghostly echoes that pronounced “one Hail Mary and one Our Father for the salvation of Don Juan Manuel”, followed by a sinister cackle that chilled him to the bone.
No one knows, however, what happened on the third night. When the sun came out, Don Juan Manuel’s body was discovered, hanging from the gallows in the square. Many like to believe that angels came to save him from the Devil, others say he went insane after his visions. What is completely true, though, is that it was the very same Don Juan Manuel who asked me for the time that night.