Photo feature by Janis Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES — Held annually in the eastern Cuban province of Holguin is the “Romerias de Mayo (“the May Pilgrimages”), festivities organized since 1994 by the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz (AHS) and where tradition and modernity intertwine.
These fiestas constitute a tradition of that city, with their genesis going back to Christian celebrations of past centuries. Today this event provides an opportunity for the best projects of the government-sponsored AHS youth cultural organization in all provinces of the island to come together every May to make the city of Holguin the capital of “Arte Joven” (Youth Art).
The event features exhibits of the most distinctive works of national culture, though projects involving foreign individuals or groups are also welcomed.
According to legend, a Spanish custom from colonial times called for the placing of a cross at the highest spot near the town in order to prevent epidemics or natural disasters.
A Franciscan friar, Antonio de Alegria, planted the cross on a hill known as “Cerro de Bayado” (Bayado Hill), thereby marking the geographical north of Holguin City. The name of this site later changed, and since that time it has been known as the “Loma de la cruz” (the Hill of the Cross).
Beginning in 1790, nearby residents started climbing the hill to pray to the cross asking it to grant them miracles. Consequently, on May 3 of each year the people of Holguin kick off “Las Romerias” (“the Pilgrimages”) by initiating a procession from the Church of San Isidor that leads to that hill. Once there, a Mass is held and after that begin the festivities that last until the next day.
Back in the 1950’s — to add greater splendor to the pilgrimage and to improve access to the cross — a proposal to build a staircase up to the site was made by Oscar Albanes Carballo (the president of the Caballeros Catolicos). To achieve this, festivals were organized to raise funds for the project.
The stairway remained under construction for 23 years. Once completed, an inauguration was held to finally open the project that consisted of 458 steps, a chapel constructed in a small plaza in the shape of a balcony, and a cross on a pedestal that serves as an altar. The fort was rebuilt and a rotunda was created.
This is why from every May 3rd until the 9th, Las Romerias is held, beginning with the pilgrimage up the hill, carrying a torch symbolizing the city and representing the head of an indigenous person.
This sparks the six days of festivities, and at the conclusion people go back up the hill and bring down the torch. They then march with it through the center of town and finally take it up to the top floor of the tallest building in the city.
The people clap and shout euphorically, with all of this accompanied by fireworks. This year I was only in Holguin for a few hours, but I didn’t want to leave without snapping a few shots of the city and its festivals in the midst of Las Romerias.
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