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Sacred Shrines


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Cuba has many shrines containing evidences of divine blessing,
and some of these are of wide renown. When the image of our Lady
of Charity was found in Nipe Bay it was delivered to the priests of
Cobre, the centre of the copper-mining industry, and they erected a
church above it. The statue is fifteen inches high, and is seemingly
carved from gold. A splendid shrine has been made as a setting, and
for years it has been the object of pilgrimages during the Lady's
festival in September. Those who ask for special favors, such as
the cure of lameness and blindness, ascend the long flight of steps
before the statue on their knees. The figure was found in 1627 by
two Indians and a Creole boy who were crossing the bay at dawn in
a search for salt. It appeared to them as a white body rising from
the water, but as they approached it revealed itself as the image
of the Virgin, the holy child on her left arm, a golden cross in
her right hand. The board on which it stood was inscribed, "I am the
Virgin of Charity." After it had been shown in the fold at Verajagua
and venerated by the multitude it was placed in a chapel, a number
of priests leading the march with a pomp and joy of banners, while
bells and guns signalized its progress. The Virgin was dissatisfied,
however, with the lack of splendor in her shrine and with the site
on which the chapel had been placed. She told her displeasure to a
girl named Apolonia, while she burned pale lights on a hill above
the mines, to mark the place on which she wished her church to be
erected. Her request was heeded so soon as the needed funds could be
collected. It was generally believed that the statue was given by
Ojeda to a native chief who, afraid of the enmity of his people as
a result of accepting a gift from a treacherous and hated race, or,
more reasonably, afraid that the Spaniards would kill him for the
sake of the gold that adorned it, set it afloat in the bay. A thief
despoiled it of thirty thousand dollars' worth of jewels after the
American occupation.

This ambulatory practice of sacred images is not uncommon, and a
similar instance is recorded in Costa Rica, where in 1643 the state
had been thrown into a panic by the devil, who lives in the volcano
of Turrialba, when he is at home, and who generally was at home in
those days, for he seized upon every wayfarer who ventured on the
peak. General joy was therefore felt at the discovery of a Madonna
by a peasant woman at Cartago. She carried it to her hut, but it was
dissatisfied and ran away--twice--three times. The village priest
then took it and put it under lock and key in his house. Again it
ran away. It was carried to church in procession, and it ran away
again. Then the priest laid a heavy assessment on his flock for silk
and gold and emeralds with which to deck the image, and this concession
having been made to a feminine fondness for appearance, the statue has
remained patiently on its pedestal ever since. One of the treasures
of the Church of Mercy, Havana, is a painting of the cross, with a
woman seated on one arm of it, holding a child. Spanish soldiers and
proud-looking Indians are gathered about the emblem. The origin of the
picture is involved in doubt, but it was installed in recognition of an
appearance vouchsafed by the Virgin to Columbus at Cerro de la Vega,
in presence of the Indians. The natives, alarmed at this vision in
the air, and associating it--justly, as it fell out--with calamity,
discharged their arrows at it, and were still more frightened when
their darts passed through the apparition without causing a flow of
blood. This onslaught put the Spaniards into an instant rage, and,
encouraged by the Virgin's smiles, they fell upon the heathen with
sword and musketoon and stamped them out of existence.

Some of these supernatural appearances had so occult a purpose that it
has never been fathomed. At Daiquiri, for example, where the American
troops landed in the late war, a native reported to the wondering
community that while walking through the wood he met a tall, shaggy
stranger, who looked as though he might have been one of the fisherman
disciples, and who pointed to the earth with an imperious gesture. So
soon as the Cuban had looked down the tall man melted into air. On
the ground was the print of the face of Christ. A stone was placed
on the spot to mark the miracle.

When the fiery Ojeda set out on his several voyages of discovery and
adventure,--and no man ever had more excitement and tribulation,--he
carried in his knapsack a small painting of the Virgin, the work
of a Fleming of some artistic consequence. During his halts in
the jungle it was his custom to affix this picture to a tree, say
his prayers before it, receive spiritual assurance of protection,
then, grasping sword and buckler, to undertake the slaughter of the
natives with fresh alacrity and cheer. So confident was he in his
heavenly guard that he exposed himself recklessly in fight, and the
Indians were fain to believe him deathless, until one of their arrows
pierced his leg. If this injured his confidence it did not stint
his courage. He ordered his surgeon to burn the leg with hot irons,
threatening to hang him if he refused, for he fancied that the arrow
was poisoned. When wrecked on the south coast of Cuba with seventy
varlets, who had no concern for exploration and much for booty,
he struck out bravely for the east end of the island, floundering
through marshes and breaking his way through tangles of vegetation,
the company living for several days on a few pounds of raw roots,
moldy cassava, and cheese, and at last breaking down in despair. In
thirty days they had crossed ninety miles of morass, and were too
feeble to go farther. Ojeda set up his picture for the last time and
besought the thirty-five cut-throats who survived to pray to it also,
assuring the Virgin that if she would only guide them through their
peril this time he would make a chapel for her in the first village
he might reach.

In answer to this prayer a path was disclosed that led them to dry
ground, and they soon arrived at the hamlet of Cuebas, where the
natives received them with every kindness, and went to the marsh
to rescue such of the party as had been abandoned but were still
alive. These rascals afterward reached Jamaica, where some were hanged
for their various murders and sea-robberies, while others re-enlisted
in various freebooting enterprises. Ojeda kept his promise. He
explained to the chief at Cuebas the principal points in the Christian
faith, built a little oratory in the village, and placed the picture
above the altar, with orders that the Indians should always treat it
with reverence. Though they did not comprehend the relation of the
painting to the white man's religion, they saw from the demeanor of
Ojeda and his friends that it was a thing of value and might avert
hoodos. Therefore it was attired and cared for with as much assiduity
as if it had been consigned to a Spanish cathedral, and although
the Indians had not been Christianized, they decorated the oratory,
overhung its walls with sacrifices, while at stated intervals they sang
and danced before it. When Father Las Casas tried to get this picture
away from them, afterward, it was hidden in the forest until he had
passed on. Ojeda reformed, killed several of his associates who had
attempted his life, turned monk, and was buried under the door-stone
of his monastery, that the populace might trample on his pride.

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