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

Excelencias Turísticas del caribe y las Américas - - Reportaje / Report -

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.

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