Our Lady of Charity, Cobre, Cuba
In the mountains outside Santiago in Cuba is an old pilgrimage church, “Nuestra Senora de la Caridad,” which means, “Our Lady of Charity,” also known as “Our Lady of Cobre.” It is the national shrine of Cuba.
Early in the 17th century, three sailors left the Bay of Nipe to collect salt. Their vessel was small, so that when a storm arose they were drifting and rocked violently on the roaring ocean. One of the men wore a medal stamped with an image of the Blessed Virgin, and the three began to pray for her protection. The storm suddenly cleared, and the men saw something they could not immediately identify coming toward across the water.
We still have the testimony of one of the men, Juan Moreno, regarding this incident. It was taken in 1687:
“Having camped in the French Key, which is in the middle of the Bay of Nipe, waiting for a good time to leave for the salt mines, being a morning of calm seas, they left the French Keys, before daybreak. The aforementioned Juan y Rodrigo de Hoyos and myself embarked in a canoe, headed for the salt mines, and far from the French Key we saw something white above the foam of the water, which we couldn’t distinguish. As we got closer, birds and dry branches appeared. The aforementioned Indians said, “It looks like a girl.” While they were discussing this among themselves, they saw an image of Our Lady, the Holy Virgin, on top of a small wooden plank, holding the baby Jesus in her arms. On this small tablet, was written in large letters, which read, “I am the Virgin of Charity.” Looking at her clothes, they realized that they were not wet.”
Upon returning home, the men revealed what they had discovered and told the story of what had happened to them. A government official, Don Francisco Sanchez de Moya, had a small chapel built in her honor.
The Village of Cobre, where the shrine is, is surrounded by high hills that roll back to the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The village is named Cobre because of the rich deposit of copper. A lamp of copper is kept burning before the statue of Our Lady. Twice the statue mysteriously disappeared from the locked church, and then returned just as unaccountably. In each case Our Lady indicated where richer deposits of copper could be found.
In 1936 after the completion of a beautiful church in honor of Our Lady of Charity, the statue was solemnly crowned amid great rejoicing and religious festivity.
The shrine has much of old-time charm, and literally hundreds of lights burn before the shrine’s statue. Our Lady is dressed richly in silken garments; she is dark like a Cuban girl with a sun-tanned Infant on her arm, smiling down on her brown Cuban children, who come to her in great numbers and with great confidence. The prayers of centuries seem to hang down from the walls in heavy folds. It is a place where prayer comes easily, and its answer seems to be a matter of course.