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”

Padre Olallo. First Cuban Beatification

One more miracle and he will become a new Saint and Cuba’s first!


Becoming a Saint is no easy matter and can take centuries to achieve.

Padre Olallo is well on his way to this exalted position. He was beatified in Cuba by the Pope in 2008 after a life of saintly deeds and unwavering faith and the occurrence of a miracle attributed to him.

Jose Olallo Valdez dedicated his life to the care of the sick and the poor of Camaguey for whom he was always a saint!

He was born in 1820 in Havana, to parents he never knew. Luckily for him he was born in and cared for at “Casa Cuna”  a type of  orphanage/ hospital for expectant mothers/ and school. He was baptised and educated till the age of 13 or 14 when he entered the order of Hospitalaria de San Juan del Dios (Saint John of God) in Havana.

A cholera epidemic was his reason for moving to Camaguey in 1835 where he remained till his death in 1889.

In Camaguey he started his work as a helper in the hospital, nursing the sick and injured, but eventually progressed to being the best doctor in the hospital and was made the superior of the community from 1856. In 54 years of dedication to his calling, he was only absent from the hospital one night and that was for reasons beyond his control and against his will.

He lived a life of self sacrifice with a strong spirit!

During ten years of civil war 1868 to 1878 the hospital was declare a military hospital but he continued to treat all who were in need without prejudice; regardless of political or religious belief, regardless of colour or wealth.  Spanish suppression of religious orders made no dent in his dedication and commitment to his order or his faith and when the last brother died in 1876 he continued his mission single handed, never wavering and with devotion.

His personal attributes of modesty, devotion, generosity, and bravery in dedicating himself to his faith and his calling shone out. For the people of Camaguey he was a saint, and after his death his fame spread. The long process of recognition and proof of his worthiness for sainthood were initiated.

The first posthumous miracle attributed to Padre Olallo was the cure of a 3 year old girl Daniela Cabrera Ramos. This child was dying of cancer with little time left to live. Her community, family and friends all prayed to Padre Olallo for a miracle and the following day the child began to recover to full health which has continued and she is now living a normal life.

Religions have had various periods of difficulty in Cuba, but since 1992 religious freedom was granted to the people, and organised religion has begun to grow in popularity. This year March 2012 the Popel visited for 2 days which received much media coverage and political speculation world wide.

The statue of Padre Olallo can be seen in Camaguey in the church where he dedicated his life.

Our “Mi Cubita” 14 day tour visits Camaguey which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

For a shorter holiday try “A Cuban Snapshot” 7 days tour