A tour of the Cathedral of Havana.
While passing through Havana, there are many places to visit. But if it is about antiquity and history, we propose you to know one of the places that keeps record, sacrifice, tears and sins of many people who visit it in search of comfort, peace and forgiveness.
I mean an enclosure located right in the center of old Havana, with a plaza that serves as an anteroom. It is the Cathedral, a Catholic temple under the dedication of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
You can find it on Empedrado street between San Ignacio and Tacón, in front of the Cathedral Square and surrounded by old mansions of the colonial Havana aristocracy.
This sacred precinct is a must-see for professors of the Catholic faith and for anyone who decides to get closer to the history of Cuba seen through a construction that dates back several centuries and remains untouched by time. It is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Havana and while visiting the capital we invite you to visit it.
Located right in the historic center of Havana that was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it stands looking at the passing of time at the Cathedral of La Havana.
The Cathedral and its history.
The place where until today stands one of the most emblematic buildings of colonial Havana was formerly a rather unsafe terrain, known as Plaza de la Ciénaga.
For the year 1587 Gabriel de Luján, who was the Governor of the province, ordered the construction of a cistern to take advantage of the springs of the place and with this work he ensured that the boats of the port and the towns managed to supply themselves.
The assortment of springs was very intense, which kept supplying the population for a long time. In the middle of the 19th century, there was an establishment called “Baños de la Catedral”, which was located in the Callejón del Chorro, where the Víctor Manuel Gallery now resides .
But you should know that the Jesuits were responsible for the construction that began in 1749. Bishop Felipe José de Tres Palacios ordered it a year earlier and thus began the first tasks to transform the space that was the oratory of San Ignacio into what would become the Havana Cathedral, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and whose image stands on the High Altar.
In 1767 the school was already finished, but not the church and just at that time the Jesuits were expelled from the so-called New World. Half-built and in a state deplorable by the state in which the most beautiful of the churches in Cuba was located, the Spanish authorities decided to transfer it to the San Felipe Neri Oratory.
In 1778, by order of Bishop Felipe José de Tres Palacios, the process of transforming the old oratory of San Ignacio into the Havana cathedral dedicated to the Immaculate Conception began, whose image is visible on the High Altar. During the prelate of Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada and Fernández de Landa, significant reforms were made. The main benefactor of the work was the wealthy Bishop of Salamanca.
Years later, between 1802 and 1832, Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada and Fernández de Landa ordered important reforms and for this reason hired the French artist Jean Baptiste Vermay who, along with his disciples, painted all the existing frescoes in the Cathedral.
Until today it is open to the public and like every Catholic religious site invites you to participate in masses, weddings, baptisms and all kinds of celebrations according to their faith.
The historian Emilio Roig wrote on the site that «The old drainage that was a market and cattle corral became one of the most elegant places in the capital, where ceremonies and large parties are held, which made it the first place after the Plaza de Armas »
Today it is one of the most beautiful areas of the capital of the Greater Antilles and many have expressed beautiful references. Alejo Carpentier said that the Cathedral is music turned into stone and the writer José Lezama Lima called it “The area of the first Havana spell.”
How is the Cathedral of Havana?
The Cathedral of Havana is the greatest exponent of the Cuban baroque style. This affirmation can be verified when observing elements of its architecture such as the concave façade, the intermediate cornice, the lateral spirals and its upper finish.
The façade has two asymmetrical towers placed one on each side of the central structure and the deep orange dome is below the mentioned towers.
At the time around it there were high-style houses, but all the houses later became large mansions belonging to landowners and other important figures. Thus, the place went from being a space without renown to being the Cathedral Square.
Doors inside the temple is a 34 by 36 meter rectangle, divided by thick pillars into three naves and eight side chapels. Among the chapels, the very old Nuestra Señora de Loreto stands out, consecrated by Bishop Morell de Santa Cruz in 1755.
The floor is in black and white marble. At the top of the altar three frescoes by the Italian painter José Perovani can be seen, among which “La Asunción” stands out. The rest of the paintings found in the chapels and altars were made by the French painter Jean Baptiste Vermay.
Another element that characterizes it are the various tombs of bishops and famous people in the city and in Cuba. A curiosity is that the remains of Admiral Christopher Columbus remained there until the end of Spanish rule on the island.
Marbles and metals adorn the sculpture and goldsmiths of the High Altar, almost all by the Italian artist Bianchini made in Rome in 1820. There is also a collection of oil portraits of the bishops of the Havana diocese, among other works.