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Trinidad’s house of crucifixes

Trinidad’s house of crucifixes

Trinidad is a true, authentic and unique Cuban city, not only for its well-preserved architecture, or its deep-rooted traditions, but for the genuine sense of belonging of its inhabitants. This city of mountains and sea has a distinctive charm, which makes it stand out from the rest of its sister cities in Cuba.

Many–if not all–of the people who live here are passionate about the traditions and the history of their town and some have applied themselves to recording Trinidad’s significant events since colonial times, while others have dedicated their lives to collecting. One such instance is the family of Juan Carlos Carlés Zerquera who has the largest collection of crucifixes in Cuba and one of the largest in Latin America. A total of 239 crucifixes, most of which were inherited from his grandfather, Don José Carlés Corbeyller, hang from the walls of one of the spacious rooms of his mid-19th-century colonial home located at Gloria St. on the corner of Desengaño.

The Carlés crucifixes are examples of Cuban sacred art from colonial times. The pieces, which are mostly made of mahogany and cedar, were originally from the Cuban cities of Trinidad, Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey, although the collection also includes sculptures from Spain, Portugal and Brazil. The sizes are varied–from very small ones to wear around the neck to the impressive life-size Jesus of Nazareth carrying the cross.

The features of the Christs on the crucifixes also change according to their places of origin. Jesus Christ’s face is always turned downward to the right; curiously, however, the faces on the crucifixes from Trinidad all look to their left. The ones made in Camagüey present angular faces and prominent heads. The nails on hands and feet are almost always precious stones, some of which are diamonds. Perhaps the most peculiar of all sculptures of Jesus ever made is a massive crucifix made of ebony, which depicts the image of a primitive man.

The Carlés collection also includes other valuable pieces–images of Catholic and cabildo* saints, angels, altarpieces, clocks, Cuban paintings, crystal whistles, historical documents, books (mostly about the city of Trinidad), postcards, stamps, pharmacy apparatuses and utensils, furniture, chinaware, silverware, antique table linen, sports and navigation implements, and toys. Among the oldest pieces, 16th- and 17th-century cabildo saints stand out.

This family heritage is part of a living museum that is constantly made richer from the open exchange with experts, researchers, historians and students who draw spiritual sustenance from the Carlés collection.

* cabildos: self-organized social clubs for the African slaves

La Casa de los Cristos de Trinidad
Juan Carlos Carles Zerquera
Calle Gloria, esquina Desengaño, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus. January 2011

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