Racism Erases Artistic & Religious Heritage in El Rincon, Cuba

By Carlos Fragela

The El Rincón Saint Lazarus sanctuary.
The El Rincón Saint Lazarus sanctuary.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s well-known Saint Lazarus sanctuary, located in the town of El Rincon, in the locality of Santiago de las Vegas, La Habana, has been undergoing restoration for several months now.

The church has become known as a place of pilgrimage, where believers from all over Cuba make vows to the saints they venerate. At this church, restorers were able to rescue a deteriorated mural painting on the dome.

Thanks to the work of these restorers, the mural was able to see the light of day again. But it happens that a person with some degree of authority issued instructions to remove from this mural the only black angel that appeared in the composition, made up of 34 cherubs.

What gives anyone the right to make such a radical decision? What will the Cuban people, made up of different races, say when they hear of this measure? Is this church which discriminates on the basis of color the same church that preaches love for one’s neighbor?

The incident is quite sad on two accounts: it reminds us that racism is still very much alive in Cuba, and demonstrates the lack of ethics of some restorers, who willingly transform a work of art that does not belong to them.

One of the basic principles that govern restoration work is respect towards the physical characteristics of a piece. When any kind of intervention is required, it is done using the materials employed in the original. Under no circumstances can one deliberately change the appearance of the original.

Portion of the dome of the El Rincón Saint Lazarus sanctuary.

I did different restoration jobs in Havana’s San Francisco de Asis cathedral for some time. A cupola in this church also has mural painting where a black angel appears next to a group of blond ones.

It is clear such paintings were the Church’s way of accepting that one should not exclude anyone because they are different – ultimately, all of us are different.

Discrimination, in all its forms, has caused much harm and brought no small amount of unnecessary suffering upon innocent people. Only ignorance and backwardness make such acts of exclusion possible at this stage in the development of human knowledge.

How much egotism and lack of sense many human beings continue to show, while proclaiming themselves superior to animals.

There is an old song that tells the story of a man who painted murals at churches. A black man, he would never paint an angel his color. The song seems to forget this painter would not have had the authority to paint his angels the color he wished, that he merely received instructions to use light colors.

It remains to be seen whether, one day, Cuba’s much-venerated Regla Virgin will be removed from its shrine in the church for being black.

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One thought on “Racism Erases Artistic & Religious Heritage in El Rincon, Cuba

  • How idiotic, racist and mental dwarf can be whomever made such sickening determination ?

    When Africans were ripped away from their lands, locked up in Elmira, Ile de Goree and tens of other dungeons, chained to the hull of schooners and put on an endless voyage, enslaved upon arrival into foreign lands, worked from sunrise to sundown, split-up and separate all family members, deprived of our culture, language, heritage, religion, beaten to death and beheaded at will, we survived.

    When we earned or was conveniently given our freedom in Bayamo, we joined and represented 70% of the Cuban Army of Independence and its casualties. From these abused and despised people emerged names that forever are etched into Cuban history: Aponte, Clodomira, Mariana Grajales, Jose and Antonio Maceo, Quintin Banderas, Guillermon Moncada, Cebreco, Flor Crombet, Juan Gualberto Gomez, Evaristo Estenoz, Ivonet, who resoundingly defeated on the battle field, Grandparents of those ordering today in revenge, to remove black images from most public and historic venues.

    To ignore history, to deny our children of the heroic past of their forefathers and to attempt to destroy their self esteem and identity is wicked, monstrous and unworthy of being called Cuban.

    Fortunately, as most victims, we have so much to fall back upon, they have embarked on a failed effort. Martin L. King, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, N’Khrumah, Bishop, Jesus Menendez, Juan Almeida and yes, Lt. Pedro Sarria Tartabull, the honorable officer who risked his career, was court martial and sent to prison, for refusing the orders of his Commanding Officer, Colonel Alberto del Rio Chaviano to assassinate Fidel Castro in 1953.

    How disgraceful it is to read this revolting act, exactly when the Cuban people will be celebrating 60 years of the attack on the Moncada Garrison, with Fidel Castro Alive and well!

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