For the Sake of Spirituality
RELIGIOUS TOURISM IS CATCHING ON IN CUBA. A GROWING NUMBER OF TRAVELERS ARRIVE IN HAVANA, ESPECIALLY COMING FROM EUROPE, WITH THE INTENTION OF SEEING A DIFFERENT CUBA, AN ISLAND NATION VIEWED FROM THE VISIT TO CATHOLIC CHURCHES, TEEMING WITH MARKS FROM TH
Many are the reasons that people might have to sally forth to unknown places. Aware that every experience has an emotional balance that breathes fresh air into the soul, travelers can put on their bucket lists a few places of interest related to religion-oriented cultural tourism about religion, or as some call it, just religious tourism: one of the best ways to know the origin of countries' culture and history. Linked in many cases with the pilgrimage phenomenon, it is also common to find people who are interested in the appreciation of art related to the rich religious realm or to participate
in a ceremony just to learn more about certain beliefs.
In Cuba, this kind of travel is becoming increasingly popular. There are many who arrive in Havana, especially from Europe, with the intention of seeing a different Cuba, viewed from visits to Catholic churches where traces from the Old World abound, or just to take part in popular religious ceremonies.
The first church built by the Spaniards in the Cuban capital took the grounds of the current Plaza de Armas, but was destroyed by French pirates in 1538. Yet there are others in Havana's historic center, some temples of dazzling beauty, which really meet the eye.
Built as an oratory for the Children of St. Ignatius from the Order of the Jesuits, the Havana Cathedral has impressive decoration with important works and reproductions made by French artist Juan Bautista Vermay. There, where the first stone was placed in 1748, the chapel of Our Lady of Loreto and numerous attractions for worshipers and lovers of both art and culture.
The oldest in the country, the Church of the Holy Spirit (declared in 1773 as the only one with the right to grant protection to those persecuted by the authorities), is nestled in the heart of colonial Havana. In 1638, the hermitage was built where the funerary crypts were discovered in 1953, right where the tomb of Bishop Gerónimo Valdés had been unearthed earlier, back in 1936.
Located in the Plaza del Cristo stands the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje, the final destination of the Way of the Cross ceremony that used to start from the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, just a stone's throw from the Avenida del Puerto, where we also find the Sacred Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, established in 2008.
In 1899, after the American occupation, Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje was handed over to American Augustinian padres who eventually built on those premises the friars' residence, a parochial school and the the private school of San Agustin.
Among the three jewels of Havana's colonial Baroque from the 18th century, the Church of Santa Teresa de Jesus stands tall, although it remains greatly unknown for staying outside the beaten-track travel routes. The convent, originally intended for the religious order of the Discalced Carmelites, was later abandoned. Eventually, a new shrine was built on the premises under the name of Mary Help of Christians, that has remained so to date.
Two blocks from the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje, we can find the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, built in the mid-18th century in the purest Baroque style to be considered one of the most sumptuous temples in all of Havana. The facade is sober but beautiful, contrasting with the splendorous interior, where eye-popping altars and murals prevail, alongside with vaults laden with beautiful frescoes and a valuable collection of old paintings. It is a place handpicked by the worshiping pilgrims of the Yoruba religion because, in Santeria, deity Obbatala is likened to the Virgin of Mercy.
In the buildings of Havana's famous Chinatown, a church was built there decades ago to worship the country's patron saint, as it has happened in Santiago de Cuba. The Church of the Virgin of La Caridad del Cobre, painted in yellow -the color that identifies that deity- is the meeting point every September 8 for those who cannot travel all the way to eastern Cuba and simply want to put in the virgin's hands a decision of paramount significance to their lives.
In some temples in the historic center of Havana, liturgical celebrations are no longer held, but there is no shortage of motivations to visit those temples because they still play a major role in the country's cultural life. Right across from the Havana Bay, in the Church of San Francisco de Paula, a concert hall was built for performances of so-called ancient music, coupled with an art gallery. Meanwhile, the Oratory of St. Philip Neri -the former seat of the Congregation of the Oratorians after the Order of the Capuchins and the Congregation of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers- now houses a concert hall where outstanding performers, including Symphony of the Higher Institute of Art, the Mozartian Lyceum of Havana, the Ensemble Cantiga Harmonica and the Arsis Saxophone Quintet, among others, play their music on a regular basis. This is also the case with the Convent of Bethlehem, a building that was restored in the late 1990s to give it a new lease on life and bring it back to its former splendor, but now open to science and technology. That is the case of the northwest tower of the building, home to Cuba's first Meteorological Museum.
The Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, now a monumental complex, shelters the Museum of Sacred Art, showcasing images, goldsmith pieces, archaeological artifacts, furniture and paintings, construed as samples from different schools in Latin America. The Basilica houses a concert hall of great popularity for its magnificent acoustics, permanent headquarters of the Camerata Romeu and the Havana Ancient Music Festival. On the surroundings, where the dome of the church was erected, visitors will make out a garden that pays homage to the Mother, with sculptural works made by contemporary artists and where the mortal ashes of boldface names of the Cuba culture are treasured. Also there is the Orthodox Cathedral of San Nicolas de Mira or the Greek Orthodox Church, founded in 2004.
Other Havana temples outside the historic center deserve a long look because they give travelers the opportunity to see a different Cuba, right from the glimpse that recalls one of the ascending bonds of our identity.
The Bay of Havana invites visitors to cross it on two ferry boats, one headed to Casablanca and the other one to Regla, where the Church of the Virgen de Regla is located, currently declared a National Shrine. It is said that the black virgin, named Patron of the Bay in 1708, is originally from Africa and at her feet was laid the key to San Cristobal de La Habana. Every September 7, a procession takes place and the virgin is taken out of the altar with all her ornaments as people march to the beat of religious songs. Prayers are raised and many observe the celebration to make good on a promise.
Away from Havana's historic center, in El Cotorro, stands the Parochial Church of Santa Maria del Rosario, a relic of the cultural heritage that was baptized as the "Cathedral of the Fields of Cuba". Its main altar is considered a one-of-a-kind piece due to its humongous size: 10 meters wide and 15 meters high. Its archives and catacombs are valuable treasures as well. It contains paintings made by the painter's saints, penciled in as indispensable in the history of Cuban painting, especially one of them in which the figure of a black slave was shown for the first time in a place like this.
Southwest of Havana, it is worth getting to the town of El Rincon, where the Sanctuary of San Lazaro, known in the Yoruba religion as Babalu-Aye, now stands. There, in a special way from the eve of December 17 and throughout the day, you can witness one of the most famous manifestations of religious devotion in Cuba. The annual pilgrimage to this church is the way worshipers find to pay for the granting of a petition, but it is done in a unique way and according to each devotee, whether on foot, on their knees, running, head first or in any other way just to show gratitude by means of sacrifice.
Sacra Catedral Ortodoxa Rusa Nuestra Señora de Kazán, establecida en 2008. Sacred Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, founded in 2008.
En algunos templos ya no se celebran actos litúrgicos, por ejemplo en la Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula se creó una sala de concierto. At some temples that no longer hold lithurgies, such as the Church of San Francisco de Paula, a concert hall was set up.