|Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada
Plaza de la Catedral of Havana (Jan 2014)
|District||Archdiocese of San Cristóbal de la Habana|
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Cathedral|
Havana Cathedral (The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception; Spanish: La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana) is one of eleven Roman Catholic cathedrals on the island of Cuba. It is located in the Plaza de la Catedral in the center of Old Havana. The thirty-four by thirty-five meter rectanglular church serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Cristobal de la Habana.
The church was built in the Baroque architectural style with several Tuscan elements, and is considered one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Cuba. The building is mainly constructed from blocks of coral cut from sources in the Gulf of Mexico's ocean floor. Preserved marine fossils are present in the facade.
The right bell tower is wider than the left. The larger tower contains two bells that were cast with gold and silver mixed into bronze which gives them an elegant and sweeter tone[clarification needed]. The cathedral is said[by whom?] to be the only example of a Baroque facade with such a distinctive asymmetrical feature. The asymmetrical bell towers allow for water that tends to accumulate on the plaza after a heavy rainfall to flow through the streets and out to the ocean. The plaza is located on the site of a swamp that was drained and used as a naval dockyard before the cathedral was built.
The cathedral can be categorized as an early Cuban Baroque facade because of its many curves and double curves that turn into column-like pilaster structures on the facade, which are ornamental rather than structural. The use of pediments is another defining Baroque feature. Despite its grandiose exterior, the inside of the building is much more simple, even austere. The interior of the cathedral was extremely ornate until its "cleansing of excess ornamentation" in the 19th century. The cathedral's interior is in the neoclassical style, It has white and black marble floors, three naves covered with wooden vaults, massive stone pillars, and eight side chapels.
As more and more of the indigenous people were converted to Catholicism, the need for churches grew quickly. One of the largest missionary groups on the island were priests of the relatively new Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Many requests for construction had been denied by Havana's fight Attorney General. After extensive petitioning and the purchase of a piece of land in the Plaza by Diego Evelino Hurtado de Compostela, Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, a permit was granted to these missionaries. The cathedral is set in the former Plaza de La Ciénaga. In 1727 plans to build a church, convent and collegium were approved and the project began to take form, even though the location was less than ideal.
Legend has it that the cathedral once held remains of Christopher Columbus. In 1796, after the Peace of Basel was signed and Spain ceded most of Hispaniola to France, the remains of Columbus were moved and laid to rest in the cathedral's Altar of the Gospel. The gravestone read "Oh Remains and Image of Great Columbus, Be Preserved One Thousand Years in the Funerary Urn." The remains were returned to Spain in 1898 after the Cuban War of Independence.
The cathedral was renovated between 1946 and 1949. Cuban architect Cristobal Martinez Marquez headed the project and through complex architectural procedures gave the church interior a more open and grandiose space, allowed more light to enter, and improved its ventilation system.
Artworks within the cathedral
The cathedral contains a number of paintings and frescoes. Most are copies of original works that can be found in cathedrals around Rome and various museums. The side chapels contain copies of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, both Baroque artists. Above the main and relatively austere altar are three fading frescoes by Italian artist Giuseppe Perovani, a neoclassical artist who was commissioned by Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada y Fernánez de Landa to paint three scenes: The Delivery of the Keys, The Last Supper and The Ascension. A large statue of St. Christopher, The cathedral stands within the area of Old Havana that UNESCO designated a World Heritage Site in 1982.
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