Almost everywhere in Cuba, history is rich and interesting (although this is a statement that can be found in almost every travel guide for almost every destination in the world). However, Baracoa has considerable fame. One could say that the formation of modern North and South America began in this small, unassuming town. It was here that a certain Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 – the first place in the New World, the beginning of centuries of colonization that have shaped world history.
The town of Gibara, located a considerable distance from the coast, claimed that this was in fact the location where their town was originally landed by Christopher Columbus.
Sorry Gibara, but Columbus’ notes about the geography of the area make it clear that Baracoa was indeed the place in question. So it’s no surprise that some of Columbus’ artifacts are a top choice when it comes to doing things in Baracoa. The Cruz de la Parra is proudly displayed in Baracoa’s cathedral and is one of the crosses that Columbus brought with him on his first voyage (and is believed to be the only one that has survived).
Thanks to Karol Józef Wojtyła, better known as Pope John Paul II. In 1998, he became the first pope to visit Cuba and was given La Cruz de la Parra as an official gift. He thanked his hosts profusely, but he thought the cross belonged to Cuba. Incidentally, the cathedral in Baracoa was also the scene of a juicy scandal in August 1819.
The cathedral hosted a wedding between Juana de León (the wealthy daughter of a Baracoa landowner) and Dr. Enrique Faber (a Madrid-trained doctor who also worked in Havana). This was a scandal because a few months later it turned out that Dr. Faber was in fact a woman who had disguised herself as a man to facilitate her success in a field dominated by men
She got married because Juana de León reminded her of her deceased daughter and she just wanted to be near her, which is… touching? Their relationship was never physical (separate bedrooms helped with the ruse) and as soon as it was discovered, the wedding was called off.
Dr. Faber fled in disgrace to Santiago de Cuba. She narrowly escaped imprisonment and was exiled to the colony of Florida, where she disappeared from history, but hopefully was still allowed to be a doctor!
As you can see, an exploration of the rich and really quite interesting history of the area should be an absolute must on any Baracoa bucket list.
La Cruz de Parra
It has been kept for centuries in the parish church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Baracoa.
It was taken by Christopher Columbus to the port of Baracoa on Saturday, December 1, 1492, four days after his arrival in this eastern territory.
The colonizers venerated it as a symbol of Spanish Catholicism.
It was used in the process of evangelization of the natives of Baracoa and probably accompanied the first mass presided over by the parish priest, Bartolomé de las Casas, known as the protector of the Indians.
The historic cross has survived pirates, fires, vandals and other hazards, although relic hunters have chipped away at the edges and it is now about half the size it once was.
The priceless Cruz de la Parra would be the only survivor of the 29 wooden crosses erected by Christopher Columbus in Cuba during his first voyage in 1492.
With a height of 1 m, it is now safe in the cathedral, its edges being covered with metal.
It was declared a National Monument as part of the city’s half-millennium on August 15, 2011.
But did Columbus really bring the cross?
The church maintains that he did it. So does Alejandro Hartmann, director of the local history museum, the Museo Municipal (in the Fuerte Matachín) in Baracoa.
But a host of academics disagree.
Everyone has a conflicting notion – and everyone can back it up with data. In 1989, carbon dating tests seem to indicate that the wooden cross of Baracoa was planted in Cuban soil at the end of the 15th century, which supports one part of Columbus’ theory, making it chronologically possible, but it is made from the native rapeseed (Cocoloba diversifolia), which could not have been brought from Spain.
So the mystery deepens, but the cross is still venerated.
Still it is one of the oldest crosses of the new continent