Cuba's tiny patron saint a potent national symbol

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Cuba's tiny patron saint a potent national symbol
A woman holds a crucifix next to Cuba's patron, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, during a year long pilgrimage with the statue to commemorate the 400th anniversary of her appearance in Cuban waters, in Veguitas, Cuba. AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Prensa Latina.

By: Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press

EL COBRE (AP).- She's 400 years old and stands just over a foot (35 centimeters) tall, but the petite wooden statue housed in a small-town church in eastern Cuba is among the most powerful Catholic icons in the world, and an object of pride and reverence for hundreds of thousands of island faithful.

The Virgin of Charity of Cobre is also responsible, at least partially, for persuading Pope Benedict XVI to make Cuba the second stop on his Latin America tour, despite the fact this Communist-run island is the least observantly Catholic country in the region and that it received a papal visit just 14 years ago.

The Vatican has said Benedict is making the trip to honor the quadricentennial of the appearance of the diminutive relic in what Catholics believe was a miracle.

According to church lore, two indigenous laborers and an African slave who had set sail on an old boat in search of salt were surprised to find a statue of the Virgin Mary atop a wooden table floating above the frothy waves in the Bay of Nipe in 1615.

In her arms she carried a smaller figure of the baby Jesus. The church says the board was inscribed with the words: "I am the Virgin of Charity," and that the men were amazed to discover that the statue's cloak and other garments were completely dry.

Over the centuries, Cubans of many faiths — including the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion — began to pray to the statue, drawn to the participation of the slave Juan Moreno in the discovery story. Santeria believers call the statue "Ochun," the goddess of female sensuality and maternity.

"She is the mother of all Cubans," said Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor of religious history at the University of Havana. "She is the one who will never abandon her children, whatever they are and whatever they believe."

As the statue's legend grew, so did the chapel that housed it. Today, it is a lovely ivory-colored church with soaring red domes nestled in the shadow of the Sierra Maestra mountains, somewhat incongruous in the backwater of Cobre. One corner of the church is dedicated to offerings left for the Virgin, including votives and thousands of handwritten notes in which pilgrims tell her their dreams and implore her to make them real.

In 1916, the Vatican officially declared the Virgin the patron of Cuba.

Decades later, Ernest Hemingway directed that the gold medal he received upon winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature be laid at the statue's feet as a thank you to the Cuban people for inspiring such works as "The Old Man and the Sea." It remains there to this day.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II also visited the statue, placing a golden crown upon her head.

Anthropologists and historians have a less mystical explanation for the legend of the statue's discovery, yet they agree about its importance to Cuban history.

Olga Portuondo, who wrote a book about the relic called "Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Symbol of Cubanness," said the relic bears a striking resemblance to indigenous figurines, including its mestizo facial features and skin color.

Portuondo said there are various theories about why the statue was found floating in the bay, among them that it fell off a passing boat or was the result of a shipwreck, or that a sailor intentionally cast it into the sea during a storm. A common belief at the time held that doing so could ward off disaster.

No one will ever know for sure, but one thing is clear: Cubans of all stripes have adopted the statue as their own.

With a papal visit imminent, the communist government announced over the weekend that the Virgin had been declared a national monument that is "part of the identity of the Cuban people."

In tiny hamlets and big cities, hundreds of thousands of islanders turned out last year to catch a glimpse of the statue as the church paraded it across the country.

As Benedict's arrival approaches, many say they consider the relic a source of deep national pride.

"It is a symbol of our country," said Daysi Castellanos, a clerk at a state-owned Havana perfume shop. "I follow no religion, but the Virgin is ours. She belongs to all Cubans, be they believers or not."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Today's News

March 28, 2012

Photo albums related to Nazi art theft unveiled by Monuments Men Foundation

Walters Art Museum receives $265,000 NEH grant to digitize over 100 Flemish manuscripts

Rare work on paper assumed lost to history emerges from a private Texas collection

Dulwich Picture Gallery to mount first UK showing of Andy Warhol: The Portfolios

Mimmo Paladino: New exhibition of works on paper to show along retrospective of editions and prints

Timothy Taylor Gallery announces a memorial exhibition celebrating the life and work of Craigie Aitchison RA

Over 150,000 tickets booked for Van Gogh Up Close at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Brazil's leap forward unearths a painful history; archaeologists are digging up fragments

National Portrait Gallery clocks up 2,000,000 visitors...Its highest ever annual figure

Rare first edition of Adam Smith's 1776 'Wealth of Nations' anchors Heritage Auctions' Rare Books event

Morphy's March 17 auction featuring Zygmunt coin-op collection chalks up $942,000

The Les Paul Foundation and Julien's Auctions announce an unprecedented auction event

Bonhams search for Spanish patriot & friends of Britain given gift of pistols by the Prince Regent

Indian tribe worries pipeline will disturb graves

Morphy's moves into European market, appoints new rep Jeroen van Valkenburg

Cuba's tiny patron saint a potent national symbol

Titanic centennial: Museums, events, dinners

Museum revives Hands Across Art tours to bring the collection alive for more visitors

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful