El Cobre: Home To Cuba’s Patron Saint
In addition to being one of the most tranquil and beautiful towns in Cuba, El Cobre is home to the country’s most holy church and a stunning statue of the nation’s patron saint. Indeed, the Virgin of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad) is a remarkable statue of the Virgin Mary that is located in this magnificent cathedral in the small mining town where life has certainly been strenuous through the years.
The Black Virgin del Cobra was proclaimed the protectress of Cuba and patron saint of Cuba in 1916 by the Pope. The statue was eventually blessed by the Pope in 1998.
The Virgin Mary, Virgin of Charity, is dressed in yellow and wears a crown set in diamonds, emeralds and rubies.
The shrine where the statues majestically presides is considered the most significant religious site on the island. Her presence naturally gives cause for peaceful reflection that exists throughout the community surrounding Cuba’s only basilica.
The Virgin of Charity touches all who reside in Cuba. Although steeped in Catholicism, the Black Virgin is also worshipped by followers of the Santeria religion, the religion that blends Catholic beliefs and beliefs shared by the slaves who arrived in Cuba to man the plantation fields. In this sense, El Cobra is the town where all religions in Cuba come together.
The town of El Cobre was founded in 1550 as a Spanish copper mine. The grueling work of mining was primarily performed by slaves imported from Africa and enslaved Indians from the island.
Legend has it that in 1608, two Indians and one young male slave were busily gathering salt on the coast near the town. They were surprised to see a small statue of the Virgin Mary floating in the water.
In her arms, the Virgin Mary was holding her son, Jesus Christ, and a gold cross. The statue was resting on a board bearing the inscription Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad (“I am the Virgin of Charity”).
At this time in history, the local church was dedicated to Santiago, St. James, the authoritarian Spanish patron of the Spanish conquest. This caused the slaves to hide the statue of the Virgin in a thatched hut rather than in the Spanish church.
Mysteriously, the statue disappeared three nights in succession only to be found at atop a the hill overlooking the town each morning.
The fact that the Virgin of Charity is regarded as the patron saint of all Cubans, Catholics and Santerians contributes to the somewhat mystical fervor that is experienced by many Cuban worshippers, regardless of their faith.
If you are near Santiago de Cuba, a trip to El Cobre is highly recommended. There is no better way to understand the religious mindset of Cubans than to visit the holiest of sites. From the far north to furthest southern point, every Cuban from Havana to Santiago de Cuba is aware of the Black Virgin.
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