When a country is rich in traditions, myths, and legends, sometimes these get confused with reality. Thousands of legends have been woven around Maria Angola, the mythical bell of Cuzco’s cathedral that it would seem they cannot be too strange in a city with as much identity and culture as Cuzco. As a consequence, the bell even has its own name and identity.
It is known that the bell was cast in 1655, it weighs 6 tons, it is 2.1 meters tall, and that its sound can be heard a far away as a circle of 30 kms. These facts catapulted it to fame. It is known today as the Monumental Bell of South America because of its dimensions and its metallic vibration.
It is said that in colonial times a lady who was a member of Cuzco’s society with a certain wealth was called Maria Angola. She had a passionate romance with a foreigner and as a result became pregnant.
On finding out, her father challenged the young man to a duel and lost his life.
The stranger “guilty of all those evils” suddenly undertook a trip to his country and promised his beloved Maria that he would return. Nevertheless, while traveling, death overtook him. Disconsolate because of her losses, Maria decided to enter the convent of Saint Theresa and donated all of the joys that were part of her fortune. That donation served so that they could have the bell cast in devotion to the Virgin Mary.
Another version relates that the beautiful millionaire became a nun because of her lost love. Because of the failed love she is said to have thrown all her golden belongings into a casting pot.
Maybe that was the same pot that it is said an Angolan woman threw all the jewelry of her master because she believed they belonged to the demon. Nevertheless, it is said that a free Black woman tossed the wealth of her Lady into the casting pot for the bell because of such a noble cause.
Unplanned pregnancies, failed love, and betrayal of masters are not the only part of the myth that gives name to the bell of Cuzco. There are also fantastical legends such as the tale that claims two siblings; Maria and Mariano came to Cuzco who knows where. They came flying in, each with a golden chain. They bet that the one who arrived first at the Imperial City should hang themselves from the Cathedral and thereby announce their arrival.
In those days it was unheard of for a woman to win. Nevertheless, Maria won the race and beat Mariano. Without any hesitation she let everyone in the Inca Capital and its surroundings know.
Mariano’s bad luck was such that while still by the lake of Huaypo he heard the powerful song of his sister. This filled him with shame and because of the humiliation decided to die by throwing himself into the lake while his golden chain cried out.
That is why on the night of a full moon or a waning moon, the brilliant bell can be seen on the lake. But it is so filled with shame that as soon as it sees someone looking at it hides itself once again in the waters.
Another version tells us that Mariano submerged himself in the Lake of Urcos. On certain nights, it holds, converted into a bell he comes out from the lake’s depths to sing.
What is true is that popular imagination has woven and unwoven thousand of stories to obtain the same objective, give so much meaning that a Cathedral bell must claim a name. Called Maria Angola, the people of Cuzco hold that sometimes the bell sings and sometimes it sobs.