A lovely structure nestling in palm-studded forest 18km northwest of Santiago, the imposing cream-coloured, copper-domed Basilica de la Caridad del Cobre houses the icon of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, Cuba’s patron saint, and is one of the holiest sanctuaries in the country. Pleasingly symmetrical, with three towers capped in red domes, the present basilica was constructed in 1927, on the site of a previous shrine. Inside, the icon has pride of place high up in the altar, and during Mass looks down over the congregation; at other times she is rotated to face into an inner sanctum reached by stairs at the back of the church, where another altar is always garlanded with floral tributes left by worshippers.
Soon after her discovery, local mythology endowed the Virgin with the power to grant wishes and heal the sick, and a steady flow of believers visits the church to solicit her help. A downstairs chamber holds an eclectic display of the many relics left by grateful recipients of the Virgin’s benevolence, including a rosette and team shirt from Olympic 800m gold medallist Ana Fidelia Quirot Moret, as well as college diplomas, countless photographs and, most poignantly, an asthmatic’s ventilator.