Basilica El Cobre

A site of visit, veneration and pilgrimage by tourists and Cubans alike, the Basilica de la Caridad del Cobre is home to the icon of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity. It's worth a visit for the forest setting and picturesque church as well as to get an insight into the enduring influence of the Virgin of El Cobre in daily Cuban life.

The Basílica El Cobre (or to give it its full name, Basílica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre) is a popular excursion for tourists and Cubans alike.

Cuba's Patron Saint

The Basilica houses the shrine to the Virgin of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba. It is said that the small statue was found in the early 17th century by three fishermen of El Cobre village. In a typically Cuban demonstration of ethnic diversity, they are said to have been two native Taino Indian brothers and a young black boy, the son of a slave. According to the legend, the Virgin was depicted carrying the Baby Jesus and was attached to a sign indicting her status as the "Virgen de la Caridad", Our Lady of Charity. It is likely that the icon was originally transported to the Caribbean by Spanish colonialists. Spanish archives recall the discovery of the Virgin, with the boys alleged to have been amazed that despite her journey, her clothes were not wet.

The Basilica El Cobre

Set in palm forests around 12 miles/18km from Santiago city, the Basilica is an impressive cream-coloured building of three towers, set up a flight of stone steps and topped with red copper domes. It was built in 1927 on the site of a previous shrine. The Virgin herself has pride of place inside in her robes and halo of gold. Measuring around 16 inches (40cm), during Mass she gazes down at the congregation. At other times, she is turned to face an interior area with an altar for veneration.

Enduring Appeal of the Virgin of Charity

Cubans visit to request the Virgin's support in granting their wishes or healing the sick. A room under the church displays an eclectic collection of the offerings left by appreciative believers, including a rosette and team shirt from Olympic 800m gold medallist Ana Fidelia Quirot Moret. Other tokens include educational certificates, photos and - remarkably - an asthmatic’s ventilator. US author, Ernest Hemingway, donated his Nobel Prize in Literature medal for The Old Man and the Sea to the Virgin at El Cobre, but it is seldom on display.

El Cobre is an easy excursion from Santiago de Cuba and is ideally combined with other local attractions. A visit gives a unique insight into the significance of the Spanish colonisation of Cuba and the Catholic religion which accompanied it and the enduring significance of the Virgin of Charity for Cubans today.

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