Iglesia De Paula

Located in the heart of Havana, Cuba, the Iglesia de Paula is without a doubt one of the city's most interesting historic sites. Originally part of a complex including a hospital for women, the church is all that remains today. If you're looking for places to go in Havana, the Iglesia de Paula is not to miss—in fact, it is used today as an art gallery and classical concert hall making for a great daytime excursion or a stop on an evening out on the town.

Around the mid-17th century, respected Havana priest Nicolás Estévez Borges passed away. When his will was read, it was discovered that he had left all of his worldly wealth to a very noble cause—the construction of a church and a hospital for women in the heart of his beloved home city of Havana.

The First Incarnation of the Iglesia de Paula

On February 27th, 1668, construction began. It’s unknown when exactly the buildings were completed, but what is known for sure is that the final construction consisted of the hospital and a small church named for Saint Francis of Paula. Widely venerated in the city of Havana, the legend goes that the saint intervened in a 1602 disease epidemic that would have ravaged the fledgling city had it not miraculously been brought to a halt.

This first building existed on the site until 1730, the year in which a massive hurricane destroyed both the hospital and the church. It was quickly decided that the two would be rebuilt, and this second version of the church is the one that can be appreciated nowadays.

The Modern Incarnation of the Iglesia de Paula

The still-extant version of the church was built between 1730 and 1745 alongside a new version of the women’s hospital that still mostly overshadowed it. However, by the time the 20th century rolled around, both the church and the hospital had become dilapidated and closed down.

In 1907, the Havana Central Railroad purchased the property with plans to demolish both the hospital and the church. Luckily for us, however, this plan was only partially successful. Thanks to preservation efforts led by historians and intellectuals, the church was saved.

In 1944, the Iglesia de Paula was officially listed as a Cuban national monument. The church was given its original restoration in 1946, and in 2000 another project began that truly brought it back to its original glory.

The Iglesia de Paula is famous for its baroque façade lit up at night, its stunning stained glass windows, and nowadays an impressive art collection including a series of crosses painted by contemporary artist Zaida del Río. The church also hosts art shows, classical music concerts, and performances by the resident musical collective Ars Longa. This group organise the popular Festival Internacional de Música Antigua Esteban Salas or the Esteban Salas Early Music Festival. If you get the chance to partake in such an event during your time in Havana, don’t miss it—the beautifully restored Iglesia de Paula is sure to impress.

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