Iglesia Parroquial del Espíritu Santo
Iglesia Parroquial del Espíritu Santo (Parish Church of the Holy Ghost, Acosta #161, esq. Cuba, tel. 07/862-3410, Mon.–Fri. 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m.), two blocks south of Convento de Santa Clara de Asís, is Havana’s oldest church, dating from 1638 (the circa-1674 central nave and facade, and circa-1720 Gothic vault are later additions), when it was a hermitage for the devotions of free negros. Later, King Charles III granted the right of asylum here to anyone hunted by the authorities, a privilege no longer bestowed.
Iglesia Parroquial del Espíritu Santo’s many surprises include a gilded, carved wooden pelican in a niche in the baptistry. The sacristy, where parish archives dating back through the 17th century are preserved, boasts an enormous cupboard full of baroque silver staffs and incense holders. Catacombs to each side of the nave are held up by subterranean tree trunks.
You can explore the eerie vault that runs under the chapel, with the niches still containing the odd bone as well as the body of Bishop Gerónimo Valdés, who remained in a kind of limbo, his whereabouts unknown, until he turned up, buried under the floor, during a restoration in 1936. The sturdy tower holds four bells; steps lead up to the gallery.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition