A Visit to El Rincon, Cuba

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

The San Lazaro church at El Rincon.
The San Lazaro church at El Rincon.

HAVANA TIMES — During a visit to the San Lazaro Church, located in the town of El Rincon since 1917, I regretted, as never before, not having taken a camera with me.

I witnessed so many dramatic moments it felt criminal not to have captured them with a lens.

Much has been said and written about the massive pilgrimage that takes place on the eve of December 17.

Believers in Saint Lazarus travel every year to the sanctuary, located approximately 17 kilometers from Havana, to ask for health and prosperity.

When I was still a little girl, I took part in this pilgrimage with my mother, without having any idea of what I would see and feel – and it turned out to be a chilling experience.

I remember the countless people who went there to fulfill their promises to Saint Lazarus, bleeding from walking on their knees and dragging themselves across the ground hundreds of meters, and those who fainted from lack of rest, food and energy.

I remember the countless people tying blocks of concrete, bricks and stones around their legs, dragging themselves across the pavement towards the sacred place.

Without a doubt, any description of these practices will always be poor in comparison to what one sees there in person.

On this more recent occasion, what I saw wasn’t as violent as it was emotive.

On seeing a woman speak to an effigy of Saint Lazarus in his poor garments, one hand over her chest, without tears in her eyes but nonetheless praying, beseeching the figure with devastating sadness, I, who practice no religion, could not help but feel profoundly moved.

Seeing children washing their feet and hands in the holy water fountain inside the church or different people feverishly embracing the large tree in the garden spoke to me of the latency of a profound faith in our society.

Faith in Saint Lazarus, or Babalu Aye, as he is also known, took shape as part of the religious syncretism that occurred during the conquest and colonization of the island.

People who believe in this deity may be “Catholics and Santeria practitioners, men and women of all ages and social strata, as Saint Lazarus is the saint of the poor and forlorn.” [1]

Those who make the trip to this sanctuary arrive from Santiago de las Vegas, a town where most residents of Havana make stopovers, with horse-drawn carts and bicycle taxis that charge 5 Cuban pesos per person and cabs that charge 1 CUC per ride.

This is a rather basic infrastructure if we consider the number of people who visit the sanctuary every year.

From the anthropological standpoint, a visit to the sanctuary affords much information about the island’s cultural life. We could also resort to the cliché and say that a “picture is worth a thousand words.”

[1] Bernal Alonso, Eduardo M. Rincón y la peregrinación de San Lázaro. José Martí Publishing House, Havana, 2011, p. 79.

5 thoughts on “A Visit to El Rincon, Cuba

  • Just as an additional comment, if you walk along San Lazaro in Havana – it runs along behind the Malecon, you will find an excellent small paladar – La Gitana. The fellow at the bar makes a great limon frappe if you are hot. Cheers!

  • It is always December 17th. Cheers

  • Thanks Circles. Is it always the 14 of December or is it on a different date this year?

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