San Lazaro

Cuba’s Favourite Saint

Catholicism came to Cuba with the original Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century and despite efforts to ban religions of all kinds following the revolution of 1959, it remains outwardly the dominant religion of the day. The churches have all reopened and been repaired, the pope has visited twice giving Cubans his blessing, and people are able to freely practice their chosen religion without fear of persecution.

“Santaria” is the name given to the Cuban form of the African religions brought over with the slaves from West Africa. Cuban life is steeped in the beliefs of Santaria which has always managed to survive underground practiced by people in the worst conditions imaginable who gained from it their strength to survive. Although it is now recognised as a religion in its own right and openly practised it is so ingrained into the beliefs and culture of the island that it adopts and transforms the Catholic saints and embodies them with its own deities, and vice versa in a sort of symbiotic relationship!!

The saint most celebrated in Cuba is San Lazaro! He was the poorest of the poor. He ate the scraps from under the tables and even the dogs licked his sores, so the stories tell us. He was famously raised from the dead by Jesus and himself became a saint.

Who can not feel sorry for San Lazaro? He is the saint for whom so many Cubans feel a great sense of empathy.

San Lazaro has a dedicated following in Cuba his Sanatrian self is “Babalu Aye” (ref Rough Guide to Cuba)

December 17th is his saint day and the preceding day, December 16th, is the day of peregrination. The devotees begin their dedications and demonstrations of self sacrifice in Santiago de las Vegas and culminate their 5 to 6 kilometre journey at the Sanctuary of his name adjacent to and in the grounds of the old Hospital on the out skirts of El Rincon, a suburb of Havana.

They are a conspicuous procession, dressed in dirty old clothes or tunics made from old sacks for the occasion. Barefoot or with special rope shoes if not on their knees, some even spread-eagle themselves on the ground face down on the earth. They might carry wooden crosses or other burdens and slowly painfully make their procession to the feet of their saint. On reaching the Sanctuary they make their pledges and promises in return for cures received or hoped for, for themselves, for relatives or friends. Many also renew their promises to fulfil pre existing devotional pacts with San Lazaro for favours done and cures received.

On the streets of Havana there are many devotees who walk the streets carrying small statues of San Lazaro and collecting money for Cuba’s favourite saint!

Join us on one of our tours!

If you have only one week try “A Cuban Snapshot”

For those with more time to spare try “Mi Cubita”

Sacred Ceiba & Guije!

Did you know that in Cuba the “Guije” live in the Ceiba trees??

The Ceiba tree is one of the family Malvaceae of which there are 10 known species. Its appearance makes it easy to spot; thick straight trunk with spikes on it, forming buttress roots and an umbrella like canopy of leaf and flower cover. The flower which appears before the leaves, develops into seed pods which split to release large quantities of soft, fibrous Kapok, used to fill mattresses, pillows etc. These trees can grow to great heights and live many years, but the wood is only of use for dugout canoes, as it is light and buoyant. For this reason the Ceiba is often the only tree left standing when the forest has been cut down for building materials! The flowers are pollinated by fruit eating bats at dusk or during the night and in Cuba the Ceiba tree is home to the Guije!

Travelling around the island you will encounter many enormous Ceiba trees in the plazas and elsewhere. Around the base of these trees offerings will be placed by devotees practicing the “Santaria” religion dominant in Cuba. Offerings of various types of food, animal blood, flowers or over ripe plantain for example, are placed on the ground around the tree trunk and in return the Ceiba or Chango or Santa Barbara will reciprocate a favour or some kind of help!

The Ceiba represents energy and life, abundance and force, and the force it represents is the strength of Chango or his catholic counterpart, Santa Brabara.

Chango or Sanata Barbara are represented by the colour red; thus the blood offerings!

So would you want a Ceiba in your garden?? NO you would not!

Forget the beautiful flowers and the vast quantities of kapok you might benefit from, the Ceiba tree is also home to the Guije, and you really don’t want to set eyes on him!!!


“What type of creature is a Guije?” I hear you ask! “He is not mentioned in my Guide Book”! well…  He is black as coal, and very short in height. His head is big with long straggly plaits. His eyes are enormous and shiny and bright and he only comes out at night!!!  He has two arms and two legs like you and me, and he’s always close to the Ceiba tree. You might catch a glance of him in the corner of your eye looking out from beside the tree trunk, but in an instant he is gone!  Now you have seen him you better take care you better beware!!! He is up to no good and he is always hungry!!!

His favourite food is “Funche” which is made from sweet potato combined with flour into a type of a soup to which alcohol can be added or offered separately!!!

No one wants to see the Guije and no one wants a Ceiba in their garden! If they do have one then they put plates of Funche for the Guije to keep him calm and hope he stays happily in his tree home!

There is so much to enjoy in Cuba why not book onto a tour this year?

“A Cuban Snapshot” takes in Havana, Vinales and Trinidad 7 days

“Mi Cubita” extends the tour to the delightful Pirate city of Camaguey!

If you enjoyed this news item friend us on facebook and receive links weekly direct!