Cuba’s Building Restorers

By Irina Echarry, Photos by Caridad

Restoration work at the Manzanillo, Granma Catholic Church.

HAVANA TIMES, July 20 – The Church of Immaculate Conception, in the city of Manzanillo, was constructed in 1805 with wooden planks and a thatched roof.  As time went by, it benefited from several transformations.

The church’s stained-glass windows were added in the 1950s thanks to donations from the parishioners, who were conscious that the stateliness of each town is measured by its city hall and its church.

However, for more than 40 years this small jewel in eastern Cuban ceased to benefit from the efforts of dedicated bricklayers or painters, and much less from glass-work artisans.

Nevertheless, a few years ago, when a crew of retired builders began to repair this house of worship, there also came brothers Alejandro and Juan Carlos Fernandez.  From Havana by birth, they are members of the Cuban Association of Artists and Artisans, which includes the aim of restoring the most beautiful but less common architectural features of buildings: stained glass windows.

They have already lent their services in Pinar del Rio Province, and they returned the colors to Paula Church in Old Havana and to the Bayamo-Manzanillo Diocese.  Their greatest challenge, though, is the restoration of the stained-glass windows of the Basílica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Charity).

Therefore, for the next few months they will be in Santiago de Cuba, because the Church of Manzanillo now glows as if it were newly built.  This was thanks to them, bricklayers and a painter who put his life on the line at those towering heights, though his modesty prevents him from recognizing this.

The painter’s name is Carlo Sanchez.  He’s over 40 years but looks 20 when—with his tools on his waist— he undertakes the dangerous ascent up the scaffolding, that likes to sway, as if it rocking a child to sleep.

“Are you ever scared?” I asked.

He gave me a strange look when I asked him that question.  For me, it would never enter my mind to climb so high to paint a roof.  However he possesses a self confidence and gentleness that no one would imagine when seeing his strong hands.

He’s from Manzanillo and has devoted himself to restoration for more than 10 years.  He’s worked in places under worse conditions, with much higher roofs than this one and with much shakier scaffolds.  “If someone is afraid they cannot work in this trade,” he assured me.

Notwithstanding, the love of paintbrushes and for returning walls to their original tones makes him enjoy this work more than any other.

Click on the tumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery