Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, also known as La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (the Virgin of Charity), and just “Cachita”, is so much more than just Cuba’s patron saint: source of succour, icon and artists’ muse, her presence is embedded in the cultural, religious and social life of Cubans of all colour and creed.
Legend relates that in 1612, a statue of the virgin was found floating in the Bahía de Nipe, off Cuba’s northern coast, by three sailors (or salt workers depending on which storyline you adhere to) from El Cobre town on the verge of being shipwrecked. They claimed not only that the icon – a mother and child figurine – was completely dry when drawn from the water but also that the sea was instantly becalmed. Inscribed with the words Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad (“I am the Virgin of Charity”), the icon became the most important image in Cuban Roman Catholicism, gaining significance by becoming the alter ego of Ochún, the Santería goddess of love, whose colour, yellow, mirrors the Virgin’s golden robe. In 1916 the Virgen de la Caridad became the patron saint of Cuba, following a decree by Pope Benedict XV. Her saint’s day is September 8, when an annual pilgrimage is held.