La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre is Cuba's patron saint, but she is much more than she may appear. Cuba's religious climate is very syncretized, with a blend of Catholicism, African, and Indigenous beliefs. As a result, she is also blended with the powerful Orisha Oshun. On September 8th, people honor and pray to La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre for health, love, and abundance.
Who is la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre?
There are many stories about the origins of la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. In the early 1600s, Spanish missionaries attempted to evangelize and convert Cuba to Catholicism. In 1612, three boys were gathering salt in the Nipe Bay region, when they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus appear on the water. They ventured closer, and saw that she was standing on a platform that said, "I am the Virgin of Charity."
While this apparition was later discovered to be a statue, it was nonetheless decided to create a shrine to house her. Strangely, the statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus kept disappearing and reappearing from the shrine -- even when the doors were locked. People took this as a sign of Mary's displeasure, so they moved her to the Templo Parroquial del Cobre. Still, she kept vanishing. A little girl claimed to have seen the statue in the Sierra Maestra mountains, while she was picking flowers. It was decided that this was where the Virgin Mary wished to be, so the statue was moved there instead.
In other tellings, the statue was lost at sea and miraculously floated to Cuba. One source says that the statue was made so sailors would have someone to pray to against attacks by English pirates. The actual origin is lost to history, blended with myth, and syncretized with the Yoruba Orisha Oshun to create a beautiful, unique figure that is the patroness and protectress of Cuba. Oshun is a deity of sweet waters, love, and fertility, and so people often pray to la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre for matters related to love, health, happiness, and abundance. She is also frequently petitioned for her miraculous help when all else has failed.
Petitioning la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre
There are many reasons to call upon the Virgin. Here are a few ways to do so:
Keep Her Image on You
Traditionally, some Cuban people keep two postage stamps bearing the image of la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. They greet her every morning and ask for her blessings. You do not need to worry about finding these special stamps, however -- you can also keep her prayer card in your wallet, or wear her bracelet on your wrist.
Take a Ritual Bath
Fill a tub or basin with warm, fresh water. Add honey, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and yellow flowers. If you prefer, you can also use a prepared Caridad Del Cobre Bath & Floor Wash instead of making your own. You may also wish to burn Caridad Del Cobre incense powder or sticks (use a fireproof bowl for powder incense). Step into the bath with gratitude in your heart, and pray sincerely for what you need. The exact words do not matter -- speak your truth, and ask La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre for help.
Create a Sacred Space for Her
Find a small table or another place you can dedicate to la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Lay a yellow cloth on it, and set it with a vase of five yellow flowers, a glass of fresh water, and a statue in her image. Place a yellow Caridad del Cobre prayer candle in front.
Keep the flowers and water fresh. When you need help, anoint the candle with a drop of Caridad del Cobre oil, light it, and ask for her assistance.
When missionaries came to evangelize to the Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean people, they did not succeed in stamping out all of the old religions. Old deities blended with new, and the result is figures like la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre -- a benevolent, powerful, maternal force who works hard to help all of her children in their time of need.