Catedral San Cristóbal de la Habana
The intimate cathedral, on the north side of the Plaza de la Catedral, is known colloquially as Catedral Colón (Columbus Cathedral) but is officially called the Catedral San Cristóbal de la Habana (Saint Christopher’s Cathedral, tel. 07/861-7771, Mon.–Sat. 10:30 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–noon, free guided tour, tower tour CUC1).
The cathedral was initiated by the Jesuits in 1748. The order was kicked out of Cuba by Carlos III in 1767, but the building was eventually completed in 1777 and altered again in the early 19th century. Thus the original baroque interior (including the altar) is gone, replaced in 1814 by a new classical interior.
The baroque facade is adorned with clinging columns and ripples like a great swelling sea; Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier thought it “music turned to stone.” A royal decree of December 1793 elevated the church to a cathedral. On either side of the facade are mismatched towers (one fatter and taller than the other) containing bells supposedly cast with a dash of gold and silver, said to account for their musical tone.
Columns divide the rectangular church into three naves. The neoclassical main altar is simple and made of wood; the murals above are by Italian painter Guiseppe Perovani. The chapel immediately to the left has several altars, including one of Carrara marble inlaid with gold, silver, onyx, and carved hardwoods. Note, too, the wooden image of Saint Christopher, patron saint of Havana, dating to 1633.
The Spanish believed that a casket brought to Havana from Santo Domingo in 1796 and that resided in the cathedral for more than a century held the ashes of Christopher Columbus. It was returned to Spain in 1899. All but the partisan habaneros now believe that the ashes were those of Columbus’s son Diego.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition