I don't make it a habit of hanging around cemeteries, however, there are a couple that I have visited that should not be missed. The Cemetario de Colon (Christopher Columbus Cemetery) in Havana is one of those.
Once you walk through this entranceway, you enter one of the most celebrated historical cemeteries of not only Latin America, but of the world. Christopher Columbus is its namesake and it is indeed a grand cemetery. The Spanish architect who designed it became its first occupant. He studied and graduated from Madrid's Royal Academy of Art, and although sadly he died before the cemetery's completion, he left behind an architectural gem.
Once inside the gate, I was struck by the sheer size of the cemetery (think 140 acres large) and the bright white marble that appeared to go on forever in all directions, only punctuated by a few palm trees here and there.
There is a grand monument to the firefighters who gave their lives in the fire of May 17, 1890. A definite must see with impressive statuary details.
Details from the firefighter's monument.
The primary chapel is in the center of the cemetery. Inside, I was particularly taken with a statue of Mary. I stood before it for a while and admired its beauty. My eye naturally started with her face, then down to her hands, and her clothing. To me, the sculpture of the cloth really took on the look and feel of free flowing fabric. I was hypnotized. My hypnotic spell was broken when my eyes made it down to her bare feet, one of which was standing on a snake, and yes it still had the apple in its mouth.
Meantime, my son was more enthralled with a neighboring statue.
I enjoyed the chapel, its simplicity, and the cool blue color of the interior.
The cholera outbreak of 1868 prompted planning for the cemetery when it was realized that the need for graves in Havana would outstrip their current supply.
Societal rank determines one's placement within the graveyard. There are many famous people interred at this cemetery: priests, politicians, musicians, artists, writers, baseball players, U.S. Congressmen, chess players, and on.
However, there is one particular grave that the faithful travel from throughout Cuba to visit, the gravesite of Amelia or La Milagrosa (the Miraculous One).
Amelia Goyri de Adot died during childbirth in 1901. Her devoted husband visited her gravesite often and always backed away from her grave, never turning his back to her. Her body was exhumed years later and according to legend, not only was her body intact but her dead son who had been lain at her feet was snuggled into her arm. This marble statue of Amelia and her son was commissioned by her bereft husband. As this story spread, more and more pilgrims trekked to this site to ask Amelia to intercede on their behalf to God.
Amelia's resting place is indeed a shrine to the city's unofficial saint. It was fascinating to watch the number of people visiting Amelia. Interestingly, pilgrims walk up alongside her grave on the right side, rap the brass ring against the cement lid (to summon her) , they gaze at her face, lay their flowers, circle, touch the hem of her skirt and the leg of the infant son, and say their prayers. Then they always back away from her, never turning their back to La Milagrosa, just as her husband had done. It is a ritual and each person waits courteously for their turn with Amelia.
I am fortunate to have visited Cemeterio de Colon with its acres of cherubs, urns, angels, saints, crosses, even statues of faithful dogs, and yes to have visited La Milagrosa, the site of "many, many miracles."