By Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES — The Virgin of Candelaria well has a long-lasting legend. Pablo Pineiro and his wife Mercedes Nunez have been married for 52 years and together they have been the loyal guardians of this place. On the local city emblem, which is displayed at the museum, the image of the Virgin of Candelaria appears as a historic figure.
HT: Since when have you known about the Virgin’s well?
Pablo Pineiro: I came to Candelaria on December 24th 1945, I was 10 years old. Before that, I used to live in Artemisa. I’ve known about this well ever since I was born because my grandfather used to speak a lot about it. I’m 80 years old now. This whole area used to be a grove of guava trees, there were only a handful of houses. Water from the well was used for drinking and other tasks. Over time, this neighborhood, which is called “Barrancones” has been built.
HT: Why did you move into this house?
PP: When we moved, Mercedes and I were already married. We wanted to live in this stone house next to the well, we had to fix it up a little as it was in a very poor state. My three children have grown up drinking this water. The tiles inside the well really caught my attention; I’ve never seen anything like it. When a tile used to come loose and fall into the water, it used to make a hollow sound; I have that sound imprinted on my memory.
Years ago, a group from the Canary Islands came to visit us and my wife had a picture taken in front of the well, when it didn’t have a wooden crate or vase. It is four yards deep, I know because it was fumigated once and because many frogs and majaes died, the water became really foul-smelling. I set up a ladder and went down inside. I bailed out the water in bucketfuls but it kept filling too fast because at the bottom, there’s soil and a spring which never stops flowing.
HT: Do you know who built it?
PP: No, I don’t know. I saw a program once that was called “The Cuban Catalogue” and it said that the construction of the well dated back to 1840. Many people have come to ask me this question. I did my research. Beforehand, descendants of slaves used to live here, my great-great-grandparents and my great-great grandparents knew this place, I did the math. I respect what the program stated but the well was actually constructed sometime between 1798 and 1800.
A Catholic mayor called Melecio Santos Gonzalez was the one who made the shrine. I don’t know who put in the tiles. The image of the Virgin that used to be here was taken by a man, the court’s secretary, to have it repaired at a convent in Havana; but it never came back. Afterwards, a woman donated a virgin and Marcos Mendez, the man who is in charge of giving this place life, restored it. Marcos is the person who bought the chairs, the materials to build the entrance hall, paint, lights. The church priest said that if it were church heritage then they would help, but the heritage belongs to the city of Candelaria.
HT: Are you the only ones to currently benefit from this water?
PP: Nobody comes anymore because there is an aqueduct. There was a man who people called “Compin”, his business was taking water in buckets to homes here. We water the plants, clean and wash clothes with this water.
HT: Tell me about the Virgin’s story.
PP: They found a picture in the water. According to the tale, the town suffered from severe drought years ago. There weren’t even 4000 residents back then. A man had a vision and began to dig a well, the Virgin told him that he would find the water he was searching for, that she was the Virgin of Candelaria or Light. While the man was digging, the earth began to get wetter until he finally made the well. There are many stories regarding the Virgin. There was a woman from Havana who used to come because of her blind husband. She brought some bottles and we filled them up with water before the sun came up. We learned that the man went on to recover his eyesight. It’s also said that whoever tries this water, never leaves Candelaria.
HT: Do you believe that this well is abandoned?
PP: Yes, it is forgotten and it’s a shame that more attention isn’t given to a place that is part of our country’s heritage and not only because it is native to this town but because water is vital in the survival of all living forms that we know about. Authorities came to shut it down because of the problem we had with mosquitoes, like they have shut down so many wells in the country just to fill them up with rubbish. This water doesn’t run the risk of being contaminated because it’s kept properly closed with a metal lid, we are very careful.
Sometimes, foreign visitors come and we tell them about the well. Sometimes, school teachers come with their students. On February 2nd, Candelaria day, many residents come together to remember the Candelaria residents who have left us and also to remember the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem after his birth and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the only well that has ever existed in Candelaria with these features. We always discover those who come with evil ideas. Nobody is going to destroy it, it will last forever.
HT: With the faith that you have, have you ever seen the Virgin?
PP: No, I’ve never seen her, only in my dreams. This thing about somebody seeing her is a real miracle, but we see her like Saint Paul the Apostle once did when he reached a place and saw a building that said “Unknown God”, and he said: I’m going to talk about this unknown God because he doesn’t live in convents, but in our hearts. The Virgin’s well is a part of our life. My children and grandchildren will also look after it.