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Cathedral of Havana

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 23.1414 N 82.3519 W
No:317        (list of all attractions)
Category:Churches
Values:Architecture, Visual, History
Rank:5
Address:North America, Caribbean, Cuba, La Habana, Old Havana
UNESCO World Heritage status:Located in "Old Havana and its Fortifications", 1982, No.204
Name in Spanish:Catedral de la Habana
Full name in Spanish:Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana
Alternate names:Cathedral of Saint Christopher, Catedral Colon
Year of construction:1748 - 1832
Art style:Baroque
Branch of Christianity:Catholics
Cathedral of Havana
Cathedral of Havana / Stephen Colebourne, Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

One of the most prominent historical buildings in Cuba is Cathedral of Havana.

This ornate building is somewhat smaller than many other metropolitan cathedrals around the world - but there is a reason for it.

History

Swamp for Jesuits

The Society of Jesuits asked the city of Havan for a permit to build a church and convent already by the early 18th century or even earlier. Seems, their relations with the authorities in Havana were tense - for decades they did not have this permit.

Finally, in 1727 there was appropriated a site for their structures - a swamp.

In this swamp was gathered the runoff from the city and the site was not attractive at all.

Though, with the coming of Jesuits the situation changed. By the late 18th century the former Plaza de La Ciénaga (Swamp Plaza) was flanked by city palaces of affluent people.

Construction works were started in 1748. Jesuits built the convent and collegium first, church was rising too.

Cathedral of Havana, interior
Interior / Stan J. Klimas, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

City Cathedral

In 1767 was started worldwide suppression of Jesuits. They were expelled from the New World as well - also from Cuba.

All the dreams and projects of these people were left unfinished - also the beautiful cathedral in Havana.

Now, when Jesuits were away, Havana needed their church. The existing churches in the city were in bad shape - thus it was decided to complete the Jesuit church. It was built in 1777 and consecrated as Havana Cathedral in 1789.

One important event happened in 1795 - as the French gained control over Hispaniola, the remains of Christopher Columbus were moved over from Santo Domingo to Havana Cathedral.

One century later, as Cuba became independent, in 1898 the remains of the great explorer were returned to Seville, Spain.

Architecture

Cuban Baroque

The taste of Jesuits was based on trendy Italian designs - thus their new church in Havana was designed in the Tuscany Baroque style. This is considered to be an outstanding example of Baroque in Cuba.

The undulating facade of the church is beautiful - it is not sumptuous like many other Baroque buildings, but charming, rich and harmonious.

As the church was not intended to be a city cathedral, it is not too large - 34 by 36 m.

Facade of the church is assymetric - this is very unusual to Baroque architecture. This was done to make a way for water which accumulated on the plaza.

The larger - right bell tower is also somewhat taller. Legends tell that the bells in this tower have some gold and silver added, thus making their tone sweeter.

Interior

In comparison to the exterior, interior of the cathedral is much simpler, even austere.

Before the 19th century it was ornate - but the church was "cleaned" of excess ornamentation in the refurbishment inspired by Neo-Classical style in early 19th century.

Interior is sunny yellow, adorned with frescoes. The floor is made of white and black marble. Three naves are covered with wooden vaults.

Cathedral has eight chapels and several graves of locally famous people.

The sculptures in the cathedral were made by Italian master Bianchini, frescoes at the altar - by Italian painter Giuseppe Perovanni (copies of the paintings of Rubens and other frescoes by French painter Jean-Baptiste Vermay.

Valuable work of art is a wooden sculpture of Saint Christopher - patron saint of Havana. This is the oldest item here - it is made in 1632 by Martín Andújar in Seville.

Map

See Cathedral of Havana on the map of Cuba!