In the year 1732, the citizens of Puebla de los Ángeles, the second city of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, were in a state of anxiousness. The cathedral's southern belfry had finally been completed and all that remained was to place the bell in the tower. But the doña María was too heavy. Unable to complete this colossal task, the Poblanos retired to their homes in dismay. The following morning, the sound of the doña María announcing early mass convinced everyone that Puebla’s namesakes – the angels – had swept down from their heavenly abode and lifted the bell into place as the city slept.
The pious story of the hanging of the doña María serves not only to underscore Puebla's eighteenth-century status as the second most important city in New Spain, but also effaces the efforts of countless indigenous tributaries who participated in the city's construction. In reality, it was not the angels who lifted the bell into the cathedral belfry, but rather the industrious and very human indios from neighboring Cholula. Obliged to provide indios de servicio (day laborers) to Puebla, the Cholulteca had manufactured a ramp, raising the enormous doña María into place using a complicated system of ropes and pulleys. The native Cholulteca had, in fact, been intimately involved in the new Spanish city since Puebla's founders broke ground on land taken from Cholula's jurisdiction. Within twenty years, the Cholulteca had settled into their own barrio outside the city's traza (downtown), a neighborhood known alternately as el barrio de Santiago Cholultecapan and el barrio de Santiago de los Cholultecas.
This paper examines the barrio's sixteenth century development, the naming of its indigenous leaders by Puebla's cabildo (municipal government), and its relationship to both the Spanish city and its home community in nearby Cholula. Developing along the banks of the Rio San Francisco where Cholulteca laborers had strategically settled on the road leading to Cholula, the location was officially recognized in 1550. The satellite community quickly became known for the richness of its maguey fields and particularly for the quality of its pulque. The barrio also established superior workshops of sculptors, especially of Santiago images, and by 1790 had earned a reputation for its quality butchers and masons.
Why of the numerous indigenous barrios in Puebla was Santiago Cholultecapan so successful? I suggest that Cholula's proximity to Puebla and its long history as a successful agricultural center and marketplace contributed to the barrio's flourishing and booming industries. Unlike other indios in Puebla, the Santiago indios enjoyed the protection of their indigenous leaders from nearby Cholula, for if the Poblanos mistreated them they could take recourse in their home cabildo. Had Cholula and Puebla not been jointly governed from 1531 to 1538, nor shared boundaries, this neighborhood would not have developed into such an important site. Today it exists still, seven blocks southeast of the Puebla cathedral, where in 1732, the industrious Cholulteca raised the enormous doña Mará to her current resting place in the southern belfry.