Stunning as it materializes above the village of El Cobre, Cuba's most revered religious site shimmers against the verdant hills behind. Recently renovated – along with many other of Cuba's churches – the church's interior is impressive: light, but not ostentatious with some vivid stained glass. The existing basilica dates to 1927, though a sanctuary has existed on this site since 1648. There's an unending line of pilgrims, many of whom will have traveled from as far as the US.
Visitors maintain a respectful silence and light prayer candles (purchased outside). La Virgen resides in a glass case high above the altar. For such a powerful entity, she's absolutely diminutive, some 40cm from crown to the hem of her golden robe. Check out the fine Cuban coat of arms in the center, a wondrous work of embroidery.
Most of the donations left here (crutches no longer needed, awards gained through prayer) have been removed. In a small chapel at the side of the basilica, there's a small collection drawn from thousands of offerings giving thanks for favors bestowed by the Virgin. Signed baseballs, a TV, a thesis, a tangle of stethoscopes, a raft inner-tube sculpture (suggesting they made it across the Florida Straits safely) and floor-to-ceiling clusters of teeny metal body parts crowd the room.