Sacred Shrines

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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