When I decided I must visit the Colón Cemetery (Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón ) during my Cuba trip, I had no idea there was a “miracle grave” in Havana. I was more focused on the fact that it’s huge–over 1 million souls reside in the necropolis. It’s a global treasure, with 500 magnificent marble mausoleums.
Given the restrictions for Americans in Cuba, getting to the cemetery required careful planning and determination. Fortunately, one of the items on the itinerary fell away, so I was suddenly “gifted” with a few spare hours in Havana. Our government-appointed Cuban guide called to make sure Colón Cemetery was open and to arrange for her favorite local to show us around. Using my toddler-level Spanish, I managed to ask a taxi driver to get me, and two co-travelers, to and from the cemetery and to wait one hour.
I was giddy with excitement. Ricardo, our guide, met us at the entrance. As tourists, we had to pay 5 CUC (about $5) admission. Locals traipsed though, as if the cemetery was a shortcut. Judging by the steady stream of students, shoppers, and elderly, it probably was. No matter–off we went.
Colón Cemetery is a marvel. Avenues of crypts stretch endlessly. The Central Chapel is modeled after Il Duomo in Florence, Italy. Ricardo led us past tombs and mausoleums of Cuba’s heroes and dignitaries, explaining the contributions and significance of each person or family. It’s overwhelming, but I do recall the resting place of the mixologist who created the daiquiri for Ernest Hemingway.
Amelia Goyri is the cemetery’s most famous internment
Then Ricardo took us to the place of mystery and miracles: A tomb that belongs to Amelia Goyri, known as La Milagrosa, (“the miraculous one”) who died during childbirth on May 3, 1903, at the age of 23.
It seems that Amelia fell in love with a man, José Vicente Adot y Rabell, who did not meet her family’s approval. She married him anyway and became pregnant. The couple was elated.
Alas, Amelia died giving birth, and her son did not survive either. They were placed together in the tomb, with the baby at her feet. José visited Colón Cemetery every day. Never believing she could truly be dead, he would “wake her up” with three knocks on the tomb, a sort of secret signal between the them.
Here comes the miracle…and the “miracle grave”
Amelia’s tomb, located at a short distance from the cemetery’s Central Chapel, is the exception to the rule that the crypt must be emptied every few years, in order to make room for other bodies. The remains are exhumed and placed in an ossuary on the tomb, and a newly-deceased body is placed in its spot.
The day that Amelia’s remains were to be exhumed, family and friends gathered. They gasped when they saw that the bodies were intact, as fresh as the day they were placed in the tomb. AND–in a gesture of maternal love–Amelia was holding her son in her arms. The tomb was resealed and left in place. Miraculous, indeed.
The “miracle grave” in Havana becomes legendary
Word quickly spread about Amelia. Havana’s women began to visit her tomb to pray for for protection for their children and for childbirth without complications. Women from all over the world began to ask Amelia to help them conceive, even when there seemed to be no hope.
When the women conceived and babies were born, couples and families sent tokens of gratitude to Amelia, which were placed near her resting place. Over time, the articles have taken up surrounding space…and they continue to come.
The legend gets a marble sculpture
In 1914, the legend of La Milagrosa inspired Cuban sculptor José Vilalta Saavedra, to create a beautiful life-size sculpture of Carrara marble, representing a young woman looking up to the heavens. Her left arm is holding a baby, while the right arm rests on a Latin cross, a symbol of sacrifice.
You don’t need the statue to find the tomb of Amelia Goyri. There are always people gathered there, both tourists and believers. The site is surrounded by fresh flowers, as if she just passed away yesterday, not over a hundred years ago.
Do you believe in miracles? You’re not alone!
I’m fascinated by these legends and the faith they inspire. I’m not religious, yet I think there are things and events that can’t be logically explained.
Oxford University Press (“Academic Insights for the Thinking World”) says that “believing in miracles is incompatible with modern life.” OUP also found that 72% of people in the USA and 59% of people in the UK believe that miracles take place.
When I travel, I try to visit places that have “miracle-status.” Loretto Chapel, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has a staircase that stands without supports. Built by a carpenter who showed up out of nowhere, with simple tools, he disappeared before the nuns could pay him.
When I travel, I try to visit places that have “miracle-status.” Loretto Chapel, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has a staircase that stands without supports. Built by a carpenter who showed up out of nowhere, he built the staircase with simple tools, and left before the nuns could pay him. Or the Infant Jesus of Prague, an 18-inch statue from Spain, who has been performing miracles for 500 years…
Believe or not, travel leads us to new places where we discover and learn new things. That can be its own miracle.