Santuario Nacional De San Lazaro
For most visitors to Cuba, the municipality of Boyeros in the far south-western reaches of Havana is synonymous with the Jose Marti International Airport and not much else. Frankly, this isn’t that surprising of a fact—the district is mostly run-of-the-mill and suburban, with not much of interest to the average holidaymaker.
That being said, there are a few sites that might interest certain visitors—and to most minds, the most important is the Santuario Nacional de San Lazaro (“National Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus”). This humble, cream-colored church with an understated bell tower and dome is both historic and contemporarily relevant.
The Church’s History
The story of the Santuario Nacional de San Lazaro goes back quite far -all the way to 1781 in fact, although the current building itself isn’t nearly that old. The church’s history is deeply entwined with that of the Real Hospital de San Lazaro, a hospital dating back to 1714. Originally constructed to provide care for Cubans suffering primarily from leprosy, the sick would often visit the small neighbouring church to ask Saint Lazarus for help.
The hospital and the church were both moved twice during their histories; the current church building in Rincon dates from 1917. The bell tower was added during the 1920s, and the church experienced major renovation projects in 1936, 1960, and 1990. During the 1990s, it was declared a National Sanctuary by the Catholic Church during a conference in Puebla, Mexico.
Pope John Paul II also visited the site in 1998.
The Church as a Pilgrimage Site
Though ostensibly a Catholic site, the fact of the matter is that the Santuario Nacional de San Lazaro represents a uniquely Cuban form of Christianity mixed with aspects of traditional African beliefs from the Yoruba religion.
To many Cubans of African descent, Saint Lazarus is intrinsically connected to another deity known as Babalu Aye. This Orisha (a sort of demi-god) is related to leprosy, as well as sickness and plagues in general. He is generally depicted walking on crutches, with his two faithful dogs behind him.
So, on 17th December each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims from around Cuba descend on this shrine to pay their respects to Saint Lazarus, Babalu Aye, or both. Many arrive on foot, and most come with either requests or thanks for requests granted. This is one of Cuba’s largest religious festivals of any kind, and totally unique from any other Catholic celebration on the planet.
If you can make it here during pilgrimage season, you’re in for a sight to behold. However, if you’re in the Boyeros area during any other time of the year, a visit here might still be worthwhile. Though simple, with knowledge of its history and its modern importance a trip to the Santuario Nacional de San Lazaro could be interesting for many holidaymakers in Cuba.
Get InspirationAll about where to go and what you can do
Quinta Avenida is often called the most beautiful street in Cuba, and for good reason. Located in Miramar district, it's home to historic mansions, many of them repurposed, as well as other landmarks including the Fountain of the Americas, an iconic clock tower, the island's largest church, and what is perhaps Cuba's most famous theme park. Read on to learn more about Quinta Avenida, an oasis of peace in a bustling city.
Although it has transformed considerably since its original construction in the late 18th Century, the Alameda de Paula in Havana is brimming with charm. This beautiful seaside walkway is fully lined with mature trees, benches, a fountain, and the domed Paula Church. When visitors are ready to take time away from other attractions, this can be one of the great places to sit down and pause for reflection.
The Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation is one of Cuba's top tourist attractionsâhowever, you won't find any signs guiding you to its fields some 17 kilometres southwest of Pinar del Rio. Since it's a private enterprise, its plantation tours operate in something of a legal grey area; regardless, they come highly recommended. Though famed proprietor Alejandro Robaina passed away a few years ago, his farm continues to grow what is arguably the world's finest tobacco. Take a tour and find out why!
Explore cuba your wayTailor made cuba holidays
For those who prefer to travel at their own pace or to explore places not included in the brochure itineraries, we have years of experience at organising tailor-made holidays.
Create the perfect trip with the help of our specialists
Our expert tour consultants will be pleased to suggest ideas to complement your own and to organise the most appropiate programme to suit your interests, time and budget.