Colonial Churches of Santiago de Cuba
The ensemble of Colonial Churches of Santiago de Cuba included on the 2016 World Monuments Watch comprises twelve churches and their adjacent plazas that date from the early sixteenth to the end of the nineteenth century. Eight are located in the urban center of Santiago, the colonial capital of Cuba, while four are located in rural parishes in the villages around the town. The urban churches are: the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (1526-1810), Santa Lucia (1701), Santo Tomas (1715), Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (1722), San Francisco (1745), Nuestra Señora del Carmen (1766), Santísima Trinidad (1787), and Cristo de la Salud (1827). The rural parishes include: San Luis Obispo, El Caney (1691), Santiago Apostol, El Cobre (1638), El Cristo (1878), and San Jose y Rafael, Cayo Granma (1878).
The 500-year-old city of Santiago de Cuba is recognized as a “heroic city” for its role in defeating the Spanish troops in the Spanish-American War, and later during the Cuban Revolution. These twelve churches and plazas have been the vessels for the social, cultural, and religious life of the city for centuries. Strategically located hubs of the various quarters of the capital city and its townships, the churches are places where communities can gather to enjoy the social communion of urban life. These are sites enmeshed in the collective memory and the urban history of Santiago, where celebrations, sacred and secular festivals, and other staples of communal exchange continue to take place.
Nevertheless, the region is vulnerable to hurricanes and earthquakes, and these historic churches have suffered from many years of insufficient maintenance due to a lack of resources. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated the condition of many of the church buildings. The Cathedral of Santiago was the object of a restoration project following the hurricane, which is now almost complete. The project provided the opportunity to collaborate with internationally recognized conservationists who worked with local experts, craftsmen, and skilled workers. The work at the Cathedral will serve as a pilot project for future conservation efforts at the other churches, and as a catalyst for the rehabilitation of the neighboring buildings. International attention garnered through the 2016 World Monuments Watch will help galvanize the local and international community into action to preserve these landmarks.
Residents of Santiago de Cuba came together on May 14 and 15, 2016 to celebrate Watch Day. The two-day event featured guided tours and presentations at two of the twelve churches on the Watch: Templo de Santo Tomás and Templo San Luis Obispo del Caney. Watch Day also included performances by local musicians and dancers, as well as a light installation by artist Gaspare di Caro at Templo San Luis Obispo del Caney.