By Roger Sturrock
Last year Helen and I visited Ecuador as part of a holiday trip and spent two days in the capital Quito. Quito is known as the “City of Legends” and one legend in particular intrigued us. It was the legend of Father Manuel Almeida who was a Franciscan priest and was to become Master of Novices and Provincial secretary of the Franciscan order in Ecuador. The young Almeida joined the Franciscan order at the young age of 17 allegedly due to a ‘broken heart’ after being jilted by a young lady. Almeida was tall, played the guitar and had a fine tenor voice. Despite becoming a monk in the San Diego monastery, he maintained his fondness for the young ladies and soon discovered that his fellow young monks undertook nightly escapades in which they jumped over the wall of the monastery and visited a ‘house’ for a night of music, dancing and female comforts!
Manuel Almeida became an instant hit with the ladies and was soon addicted to ‘wine, women and song’. However the authorities got wind of what was going on and heightened the walls of the monastery to prevent the monks escaping. Not to be deterred, Manuel Almeida discovered a new escape route that entailed climbing up to the chapel window and jumping down to the square below. In order to do this he had to climb up a statue of the crucified Christ and stand on its shoulders. After many nights of freedom gained in this way he was again climbing up the statue when it opened its lips and declared “ Until when, Father Almeida?” Not to be outdone the young monk replied “Hasta la vuelta, Señor.” “ Until I come back Lord!”
This continued for many nights until one early morning when Father Almeida was the ‘worse for wear’ and was returning to the monastery, he encountered a funeral procession and asked one of the mourners who the dead person was. The reply was ‘its Father Almeida and we are on our way to bury him.” When Almeida approached the bier and lifted the shroud he was shocked to see himself dead! He quickly ran back to the monastery and climbed down the statue of Christ which asked him the usual question, “Until when Father Almeida?” However this time he gave no reply!
The legend goes on to recount that Manuel Almeida never sneaked out of the monastery again and became a devout novice and eventually almost earned a sainthood! Indeed a Christmas carol is attributed to him the words of which are:
Dulce Jesus mio Sweet Jesus of mine
Mi niňo adorado My adored child
yen a nuestras Come into our souls
ven no tardes tanto. Come don’t take so long.
Taken from “Historias quitenses” by Marco Villaquirdn.
What can this legend teach us? I suppose that we are all like Father Almeida to a greater or lesser degree. We can be tempted to continue a lifestyle we know to be incompatible with the Christian faith and yet when we look at our lives with a true perspective we can see that there is a ‘better way.’