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Slave's Route: Spirituality in El Cobre

Eastern Cuba, where slavery also left a deep imprint, is widely known for its fighting traditions, historic attractions and the region where the first villages were founded by the Spanish conquistadors and where economic development was based on hard slave labor.

The introduction of cheap labor force from Africa was a characteristic element in the region, where one of the major sanctuaries of Cuba's spirituality is located.

In 1540, the quest for gold in the current province of Santiago de Cuba resulted in the accidental discovery of a copper field that is considered one of the oldest mines in the American continent.

Of course, the mineral was extracted by African slaves who brought along their customs and traditions, which were transmitted from generation to generation until today.

However, the presence of copper and the foundation of the town of El Cobre (copper) were not enough to turn the village into a world-renowned place, where Cuba's Patron Saint has her sanctuary.

The Virgin of Charity, surnamed of El Cobre because her sanctuary is located in the town of the same name, immediately became part of Cubans' religiosity, as she represents Ochún, the symbol of femininity, fresh water and happiness in Afro-Cuban religious syncretism.

Caridad del Cobre Sanctuary. Façade
Caridad del Cobre Sanctuary. Entrance
Caridad del Cobre Sanctuary. Aerial view

Several legends about the virgin's apparition – nearly 400 years ago – have contributed to enhancing Cubans' beliefs, as well as that of foreign visitors, many of whom are tourists who arrive in the Caribbean Island from every corner of the world.

One of those legends is related to an aboriginal chief who was always accompanied by the virgin.

However, the most widely-spread and credible legend is that three young men (two aborigines and a black slave) found the virgin floating in the sea in the middle of a storm and bearing the words Lady of Charity.

The virgin was kept in several places for years, including a chapel, a hospital, a parish church and the current sanctuary, which was built in 1927.

The town's life, in addition to limited mining activity, is closely linked to the cult of Cuba's Patron Saint, which was crowned by Pope John Paul II in January 1998.

The temple, which has a sober architectural style, consists of a central nave decorated with beautiful stained-glass windows depicting passages on the Lady of Charity, an altar made of solid silver and valuable ornamental objects.

Many offerings to the virgin, including toys, letters, photos, awards and medals of different kind, are on display in the Chapel of Miracles.

The Holy Virgin herself, kept in the chapel, holds Baby Jesus in her left arm and a cross in her right arm, as if waiting for believers to come to worship her and ask her to fulfill their wishes.

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