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Holguin Catholic Patrimony, Answers by a Historian
catedral san isidoro lisandra28In 1963 Angela Peña Obregon was a young girl that left her hometown, Holguin, to study History at the University of Havana, a specialty that started being taught there a year ago. Angela, Bebe for classmates and friends, got her degree in History in 1967, but she majored in cultural patrimony, her favorite field.

In a tribute for her 70th birthday, one of her classmates, historian Pedro Pablo Rodriguez, said: "...we completed our studies, but Bebe didn't stay in Havana, as many of those from outside the Cuban capital city did, she made her way back to Holguin, her dear Holguin. And she has made her career here and keeps being Bebe, who has abandoned her talent and life to research; therefore, she deserves a significant place in the cultural life of this city, whose recognition has trespassed Cuban borders.

iglesia parque san jose lisandra cardosoAngela Peña has become an expert on Cuban culture; and it is that each building, each street, any city tradition has gone thru the scope of her clear mind. That passion has come true with the release of several articles, pamphlets and books on the patrimony of Holguin. The catholic temples and traditions have called her attention to a point that she goes over the issue in several articles:

- Hallazgo arqueológico en San Isidoro. Revista Cocuyo. Publicada por el Obispado de Holguín en 1997. (Archeological Finding at San Isidoro. Cocuyo magazine. Published by Holguin Dioceses, in 1997)

- La capilla del Santo Cristo de la Misericordia. Revista Cocuyo Numero 14 en 1999. (The Chapel of Santo Cristo de la Misericordia. Cocuyo magazine, No. 14, 1999)

- La Parroquia de Jesus del Monte Revista Cocuyo, Numeros 17 y 18, tambien en 1999 (The Chapel of Jesus del Monte). Cocuyo magazine, 1999.

Taguabo y Maicabo; Un Testimonio en torno al elemento aborigen en el sincretismo religioso cubano. Revista de Arqueologia del Caribe. 4 del 2000. Santiago de Cuba. (Taguabo and Maicabo; A Testimony on the Aboriginal Element in the Cuban Religious Syncretism), Caribbean Archeology magazine, No. 4, 2000).

But also several books and pamphlets that make reference to the country's religious patrimony, among them:
- Holguin Colonial: Paginas de su Historia. Editorial Centro Provincial del Libro. 1992 (Holguin in the Colonial Period: Pages of its History. Editing house Centro Provincial del Libro, 1992).

- Libro la Plaza del Mercado Coleccion Premio de la Ciudad Holguín 1993 (Book, Plaza del Mercado, Collection: Premio de la Ciudad Holguin, 1993)

- El Ardeco en la arquitectura holguinero. Coleccion Premio de la Ciudad 1994 (Art Deco in Holguin's Architecture. Collection: Premio de la Ciudad, 1994)

- Imagenes holguineras, Editado por Publicigraf, 1994 (Images of Holguin, edited by Publicigraf, 1994).

- Holguin en dos siglos de arquitectura, Editado por Coleccion Premio de la Ciudad, Ediciones Holguin, 2002. (Holguin in Two Centuries of Architecture, Edited by Collection Premio de la Ciudad, Holguin editing house, 2002).

- Las Iglesias mas antiguas de Holguin. Editado por Publicigraf, 1994. (The Oldest Churches in Holguin. Edited by Publicigraf, 1994).

- La Loma de la Cruz. Editorial Pablo de la Torriente Brau, 1995 (The Cross Hill. Pablo de la Torriente Brau editing house, 1995).

These studies are part of works in which Bebe has collaborated with like,

Architectural Guide of Cuba's Eastern Provinces. Edited by the Board of Andalusia and the Office of the Conservador de Santiago de Cuba.

Result of the Historical and Archeological Research made in the Old Parish of Holguin (a team work), 1997.

This author asked this renowned researcher on the prints the Catholic Church has left on the cultural patrimony of Holguin.

- Why so much interest on studying the monuments of the catholic religion?

My interest relies on architecture rather than on the catholic religion as such; I feel highly attracted by this field; therefore, I've studied architecture at homes and the civil institutions. The religious architecture is very important for the study of the Hispanic settlement in the American continent because it's very closely linked to the Spanish colonial period, the construction of churches and religious events (like a blessing given to a place to build a church or to live at), what marks the foundation date of a settlement, and that notwithstanding some people have already been living in the place, as is the case of Holguin. The church as an institution influences in the towns' life, as there were not alone temples, but each important place has a chapel, for example, in the garrison, the hospital, the cemetery, and other sites like the fort where the patriots were taken before been killed in El Llano, where a priest would given them a final consolation. Holguin had no convents, the Franciscans failed to achieve their will on such a sense, in early 20th century nuns from the Compañia de Maria (Lestonnac School) and the Cardinal Ciriaco Sacha reached at the Hospital de Caridad (Charity Hospital), which also had a school for poor girls. Later were founded other catholic schools, and also schools like Montesinos and Maristas.

The religious architecture has been approached in diploma papers and of master's degree courses, as so did architect Mario Carballosa.

- You have published several books on this topic; there is one on catholic temples. In Holguin, which do you believe are the most important religious monuments or religious facilities?

The Cocuyo magazine of the Holguin Dioceses has published some articles I wrote on San Isidoro church, and other temples, for example on San Jose church in Holguin city, the Jesus del Monte church in the town of Auras. They just made a TV program on the San Isidoro church. They have only published a pamphlet on the topic of catholic churches for being the oldest ones here. In a work by Elda Fernandez she deals with the San Jose church and other three ones with the goal of standing out their patrimonial assets, not alone the building. In my opinion they are all important buildings, however, the most significant facility is today's Cathedral for being the first one ever built here and running the jurisdiction for about a century. It was the fourth parish in eastern Cuba.

Among the most relevant churches from the patrimonial scope is the San Jose which welcomes the parishers from the north her part of the city and part of the nearby countryside; that one in Gibara, with its neoclassical style and funded by an outstanding personality of the 20th century, Doña Victoriana de Avila, a descendant of a founding family of Holguin; the church in the town of Santa Lucia (with its wooden architecture and built under the influence of US architecture, originally the house of the Sanchez family, which owned a sugar mill there); that one in Banes which stands out together with the priest's home for its Art Deco values and Streamline Moderne styles; the church in Mayari, one of the oldest settlements in the province, which was founded by the country's aboriginals; the church in Fray Benito, founded in the settlement of Retrete, and that one in Sagua de Tanamo (with an Art Deco tower). As a remarkable spiritual message stands out in Holguin the Santos family whose last name (Saint for Santos in Spanish, and San the shortening for Santo) served to name the oldest churches here: San Isidoro, San Fulgencio (in Gibara), and Santa Florentina and also San Leandro, that while Monsignor Emilio Aranguren was researching on this field found out a temple bearing his name, which is located near the Cauto river. But Holguin is the only place in Cuba where the blood of a catholic saint was shed; His Holiness Antonio Maria Claret, in addition to the fact that Christianity entered into Cuba by Bariay in 1492.

- Are the religious buildings in Holguin marked by given features that make them different?

The Cathedral is a summary of different historic periods, each building here responds to the time they were built in. In my opinion they rank among the simplest ones in the country, of course, they keep some particular features and values. Each one has a given cultural image and has become symbols for the places they are located. The Cathedral boasts of the beauty of its chapels and vestibules and the ceiling and its chapels with a beautiful touch; the San Jose church and its bell tower and the Mozarabic arcades that split its naves; the church in Gibara has towers and painted domes and scallops; the church in Santa Lucia stands out for the two lateral tambours that make it different, in fact, the patrimony admits no comparison, each one keeps some given values.

- Do the religious images stored in the temples keep any values from the monumental and artistic viewpoint?

There are some assets in our churches like images and baptismal fonts, furniture, mainly altarpieces, which show old images like the Virgen de la Caridad (Our Lady of Charity) at the San Isidoro Cathedral and other churches in the sacristy, however, starting the Second Vatican Council in many churches – as it happened in our case, the largest majority of the images were removed from the temples, which fortunately are safeguarded by some families. The most interesting thing about them is that the local archives keep the ethno-historic memory of Holguin city and also the intangible culture that was created across time: legends, miracles, feasts, offices during the celebration of significant religious and social events held in those temples, in social facilities like the premise of the Patriotic Society or the Vaccination Center.

- How much have influenced the Catholic temples in the people's folk?

The Catholic temples mark a milestone in the social and religious life of the Cuban people, despite not professing Catholicism, what they take as their own because they are part of the city life; that is to say, people that have been baptized there, or the rites coming out from those temples like the processions. Many religions use deities and dedications from Catholicism in their services or rites, like spiritualism and santeria. For the largest majority of the people the churches are referential and architectonic landmarks, as that they are located in many towns across the main parks.

- Is Catholicism found in the cemeteries and funeral constructions of any size?

People call the oldest cemeteries graveyards, which comes from the belief that while alive we're part of society, but when we pass away we belong to church, that's why, a chapel in the oldest cemeteries.

- You have taken part in archeological excavations in catholic temples, what can you tell me about the studies made?

I've just taken part in the excavations in today's (San Isidoro) Cathedral, led by Juan Jardines and Manuel Garit of the Central-Eastern Archeological Group of the CITMA (Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment). We achieved interesting results that helped us know and deepen on the foundation of today's Holguin, the town's design and society then, the religious habits of the time, the society's view of the world. They found archeological findings indeed significant for the city history, like the remains of the Church in 1730, which Morell describes in June 1756, and had a cemetery. Such a thing was left the way it was as it is so far the oldest material in Holguin.

- Why did you start researching on the Virgen de la Caridad en Nipe (Our Lady of Charity in Nipe Bay)?

It was a necessary research to get to make the dossier to declare National Monuments the sites or stations linked to the finding of the Virgen de la Caridad (Our Lady of Charity), something not available in the sources consulted on the issue, on the religious process linked to the slaves in the copper mines in El Cobre. That site (Nipe Bay), from the province of Holguin since 1976 has been barely studied for at least the two or three first centuries of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba. Therefore, I think the publication of this research is very important because it has contributed to know about the spaces then and thus spread all details so far reached on marine presence in Cuba and particularly in the territory of Holguin. The research brought to light the religious feelings in the communities where the Virgen de la Caridad was for a while, which are preserved in the historic memory passed on thru generations, from families to families.

- Will you continue on researching on this issue?

This issue was dealt again about two years ago when they worked at the Plaza de la Parroquial and its surrounding by an interdisciplinary team of the Office of Monuments and Historic Sites, and Jardines and I haven't finished a book we already began.

- Any thing not yet said that you think might be interesting?

We have also worked in the architecture of catholic schools (Lestonnac, Maristas, Montesinos, etc), and some sites linked to the houses of priests, etc.

This is an interview to a colleague who has abandoned her life to study and Project the Cuban cultural patrimony.

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  • Devin Reyes

    Hola, es posible conseguir el correo electronico de Angela Peña? Yo soy sobrino de Nando Reyes, el director del grupo de los exploradores de Antilla que fue el que encontro a Taguabo y Maicabo en una cueva en 1928.

    Gracias