stained glass window black virgin el cobre cuba

The Black Virgin aka Nuestra Señora del Cobre – Cuba’s Most-Sacred Site

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad is enshrined in the town of El Cobre and is Cuba’s most-sacred site, a place of miracles attributed to the “Black Virgin”.

Approaching Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre
Approaching Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre.

According to legend, the Black Virgin of El Cobre – also known as “Cachita” – was discovered in the Bay of Nipe in 1608, when 3 fishermen caught in a storm saw a statue floating in the sea.

Family with baby pose at the altar of Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre
Family with baby pose at the altar of Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre.

On this 30cm-high, wooden statue was the black virgin and the inscription: “I am the Virgin of Charity. In her left hand, she carried the child Jesus and in her right, a golden cross.

Interior of Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre
LEFT: Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre – Queen and Patroness of Cuban peoples. Interior of Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre.

Saved from the fury of the ocean, the grateful fishermen took the statue back El Cobre, where over the years the Virgin is said to have performed many miracles.

stained glass window black virgin el cobre cuba
Stained glass window depicting the legend of the sailors at sea and the statue.

In her honor, a hermitage was built and in 1916, Pope Benedict declared the Virgin of El Cobre to be the Patron Saint of Cuba.

The current basilica of Nuestra Señora del Cobre was built in 1927.

Black Virgin mural inside the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre
Black Virgin mural inside the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre.

And in 1988, she was crowned and blessed by Pope John Paul II. However, a sanctuary has existed on the El Cobre site since 1648.

In the room of miracles Cubans have left memos, letters, medals, CDs, baseballs, etc, attributing their luck, health or success to the Virgin. (BOTTOM RIGHT: I left my website card amongst stuff on the table – small and colorful in center: THE CANDY TRAIL … was here.)

Among the masses of pilgrims to visit El Cobre was – Ernest Hemingway (who spent years living on the island).

He left his Nobel Prize for “The Old Man And The Sea” here as an offering and it was on view within a glass case (until some idiot stole it; but it was recovered and now, it’s hidden from public view.)


Getting to Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre.

Best done by hiring a taxi, but it’s also possible to get to El Cobre by public bus from the city of Santiago de Cuba. It about 20 km away.

The day I visited El Cobre it was remarkably quiet; sometimes there can be huge crowds.

Waiting for a bus in the nearby settlement, it was good opportunity to grab street snack of roast pork. Delicious – with a cold beer – on a hot afternoon.

Travels in Cuba – 2010

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