Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Basilica at El Cobre, Cuba's Most Famous Church

One of my favorite photographic subjects is churches. Old churches have character and sometimes tell stories that parishioners or members won't necessarily tell you. I saw many churches in Cuba, unfortunately there was no time to photograph them or inspect them properly. If I could change anything at all about my tour, it would be to tell our governments to allow for more photographic exploring.

Our return to Santiago from our day excursion to Bayamo took us to El Cobre, Cuba. El Cobre is a tiny town about 20km to the west of Santiago. Cobre means copper, as in copper mine. The mines were the reason for the town's existence in the 1800's, built and controlled by the Spanish. We rolled into El Cobre just after dusk. It was also raining. Our bus actually stopped along the roadway up to the church so that we could try and get pictures. The photos that I took do not tell you the full story of just how beautiful this place, this church is. As we parked at the top of the hill, near the church, we could also see the nearby copper mines, which were within short walking distance.

Basilica de Nuestra Senor de Caridad del Cobre
The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Caridad del Cobre is undoubtedly the most famous church in all of Cuba. The color of the building is yellow, bright yellow. The pinkish-white of the photos is due to the time off day and coloring of the sky. Since we arrived after closing, I am unable to show you the Virgin del Cobre, the Black Madonna, who carries a cross of diamonds and is dressed in yellow, with a crown sprinkled with diamonds and rubies.

According to legend the Black Madonna appeared one day to save the hundreds of thousands of slaves who worked the nearby coppermines. She appeared to them with Jesus in her arms, according to the story. To mark the miracle a church was built on the spot and has become a must stop for religious pilgrims. Every year there is a massive pilgrimage by the faithful up the hill to the Basilica. Even Popes make this journey, it is said. The last papal visit came in 1998.  The Madonna, who is also the patron saint of the island is symbolized by the sunflower. All along the roadway to the Basilica were stands and peddlers selling the giant flowers as well as wooden statues of the Madonna and child.

La Catedral de San Cristobal
We visited the La Catedral de San Cristobal twice during our stay. It is located in Old Habana on the main square. The Spanish started to build the church in 1528 but it wasn't finished until 1815. The reason it took so long was that there were many natural disasters earthquakes in 1816 and in 1847, which caused a lot of damage. The building was restored to its original magnificence in the 1920's. 

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