Virgen de la Caridad, El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba, CubaAround 1612, two native brothers, Juan and Rodrigo de Hoyos, and a 10-year-old black slave, Juan Moreno, were canoeing to a salt-harvesting area to get salt for the cattle belonging to a nearby copper mining operation in northeast Cuba. But they had not gone far from their camp on Frances Cay when a small statue floated toward them on the Bay of Nipe: the Virgin and Child, mysteriously clothed in perfectly dry vestments, on a board inscribed, "I am the Virgin of Charity." They took her aboard, gathered a little salt, and brought their finds to the ranch at Barajagua. The head of the mining operation had a chapel built to house the statue and installed Rodrigo de Hoyos as caretaker. After he repeatedly discovered the statue was disappearing from the locked chapel and just as mysteriously returning, it was moved to El Cobre (Copper), ten miles south, but it continued to come and go from the church there. Then a girl named Apolonia saw the Virgin of Charity in the Sierra Maestra foothills near the copper mine where her mother worked. The statue was moved to the hills, where it has remained since, a miracle-working focus of devotion for Catholic Cubans everywhere (as well as for practitioners of Santería, for whom it represents the love goddess Ochun). About 16" tall, the terracotta Virgin of Charity of El Cobre holds the Child in her left hand and a jeweled cross in her right. Vested in flaring golden robes, she stands on an inverted silver crescent atop a silver orb decorated with angel heads. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV proclaimed the Virgin of Charity patron of Cuba. On December 20, 1936, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba solemnly crowned the statue during the National Eucharistic Congress there, at the request of Pope Pius XI. After the 1959 revolution, the sanctuary continued to exist – Pope Paul VI designated it a Basilica Minor in 1977 – but without the public expressions of faith of the old days.
On January 24, 1998, the statue returned to the city of Santiago de Cuba, where Pope John Paul II recrowned it during his historic visit. Since then, the Sanctuary has held processions on the Virgin's September 8 feast day and other holy days. But in 2008, while missing El Cobre, Hurricane Ike forced cancellation of a 12- mile procession from the Sanctuary to Santiago de Cuba that was to have kicked off the celebrations leading up to the 400th anniversary. (Information from the Sanctuary's site, www.virgendelacaridaddelcobre.org, and other sources. Picture from "Santiago de Cuba," www.elsolarcubano.com.)
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