Our Lady of Charity
PATRONESS OF CUBA
About 1600, two native Indians, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, along with a ten-year-old slave boy, Juan Moreno, were looking for salt to preserve the meat of the Barajagua slaughter house, which supplied the workers and inhabitants of "Santiago del Prado," now known as "El Cobre." That day they had approached Cayo Francés, halfway across the Bay of Nipe, where they stopped to escape a tremendous storm which threatened their frail canoe.
At daybreak the weather was again calm, and they set off upon the sea. At a distance, they saw a white object, which appeared to be a bird floating on the waves and coming towards them slowly. As it drew closer, it seemed to be a girl until they realized it was a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the child on her right arm and with a gold cross in her left hand. The statue was fastened to a board with the inscription, "I am the Virgin of Charity."
According to the sworn testimony of witnesses, despite the recent storm and the motion of the waves, neither the figure of the Virgin, nor her clothing, was wet.
The image's original clothing was white, but the faithful have given her gold and silver colored robes. Because Our Lady of Charity is a symbol of Cuban nationality, popular statues give her a white robe, a blue cloak and have the Child dressed in red: the colors of the Cuban flag. At present the Virgin's dress, a copy of a very early one, is of heavy lamé with gold threads, and has the national Cuban shield embroidered on the skirt.
The pious faithful are devoted to the image of their "Cachita" with the small boat at her feet and in it the "Three Juans" who found her floating on the water. This detail is omitted in the oldest reproductions which copied the original statue.
At the request of the veterans of the War of Independence, Our Lady of Charity was declared the patroness of Cuba by Benedict XV in 1916 and solemnly crowned in the Eucharistic Congress held in Santiago de Cuba in 1936. Pope Paul VI raised her sanctuary to the category of Basilica in 1977.