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On the Virgin’s feast day, September 7, the faithful come to Cuba’s National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Regla, continuing a tradition that began in the 17th century. The image that we see today is an exact copy of the head of the original statue. It was brought from Spain in 1696 by Sergeant Major Don Pedro de Aranda y Avellaneda and placed on the altar of the church that substituted the original wooden structure, which was destroyed by a hurricane. Today’s Sanctuary, a modest and humble building erected from 1811 to 1818, is far from majestic. Its altars are not filled with gold or other material riches. It stands on a small rise fittingly facing the sea.
The statue of the Black Madonna, as it is also known, has lived an adventurous life. When Havana was captured by the British in 1762, it was taken to the church of the small town of El Calvario, and then to a sugar mill in nearby Managua. This was done to prevent the statue from falling in the hands of the subjects of “treacherous Albion.” In 1958, it was abducted, with the priest’s knowledge and consent, by young revolutionaries who opposed Batista’s dictatorship.
As with Our Lady of Charity, devotion for Our Lady of Regla is part of this wonderful potpourri, which, according to the Cuban scholar Don Fernando Ortiz, is the basis of the Cuban nationality. The Virgin of Regla is syncretized with the Orisha Yemayá, owner of the moon, the seas and everything that lives there. She is vested with marine symbols, such as shells, conches, anchors, boats, corals, seaweeds and starfish. And her color, of course, is blue like the sea. While the pilgrimage of the patron saint of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity, is filled with yellow, the pilgrimage of Our Lady of Regla, the Cuban black virgin, is blue, as befits the Queen of the Seas.
September 2014 This article formed part of the September 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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