This photo was taken in the Cathedral of San Lazaro just outside of Havana, Cuba, in December 2011. This has always been one of my favorite places to visit. We were there on a Saturday which means that more people can come there to worship and pray for healing, clear thinking, and wealth. We were their just after Christmas Day, but there was a festive atmosphere. The crowd was much smaller than it had been just ten days earlier.
On December 17 thousands of Cubans make their pilgrimage to the El Rincon de San Lazaro, located just outside of Havana. They come seeking healing, to make good on some promise they have made, and to worship San Lazaro. It is here one finds the intersection of Roman Catholicism brought from Spain with the Santera or Yoruba religion that came with the slaves from Africa. Thanks to the syncretism that exists between religious practices in Cuba, Babalú Ayé, the Orisha of sickness and disease, is represented by San Lazaro, an old man walking on crutches, with his two dogs licking the sores on his legs. People walk on their knees, slide on their backs or their bellies, often with chains and weights being dragged along behind. They are the penitents seeking cures. San Lazaro is the same as Saint Lazarus who was canonized in the year 72 by the Roman Catholic Church. Lazarus was one of Jesus’ best frieda and was the brother of Mary Magdalene. He preached in Bethany, fell ill and died. . When he heard the news of Lazarus’ death, Jesus went to his grave in Bethany. He resurrected Lazarus after four days of him being buried. When the African slaves were brought to Cuba they identified their various gods or Orishas with the various saints of Catholicism. That way they could pray and give offerings to their Orishas and also please their masters by seemingly praying to the Roman Catholic saints. The offerings left for San Lazaro are often tobacco, wine small amounts of money. Most are viewed as inappropriate by the RC priests, but the people are oblivious to this factor. In the chapel there is a closed case of the gifts left in the past for San Lazaro, prominent among them is the gold Rolex watch of Presidente Fulgencio Batista who left it in thanks for San Lazaro having saved his wife from cancer.
In spite of all this lore, much of it confusing and based upon faulty logic, ignorance, poor knowledge of the church, and superstition, this as happy and joyful scene at this time of the year. Everyone is happy and even in Cuba, with all its issues, most hearts are full of happiness and kindness. That’s all any of us can hope for these days. Have a healthy and happy holiday season!
Kitsch for sale in parking lot at El Rincon de San Lazaro