In Camagüey temple: Universal heritage relics

By Lázaro David Najarro Pujol/Contributor

September, 2021.- The Temple of Our Lady of Mercy in Camagüey is one of the most visited architectural works by places and foreigners. It is located in the Plaza de los Trabajadores, in the historic center declared by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The first building was built in 1601 by friars of the Mercedarian order, who currently serve it. It was a hermitage of wood and guano dedicated to Our Lady of Altagracia, donated by Juan Griego, a neighbor of the town.

For Florencio Palacio Bonachea permanent deacon, the year 1601 is the date that we have knowledge of the existence of the aforementioned religious temple and this is how the historians Tomás Pío Betancourt and Juan Torres Lasqueti refer.

He adds that La Merced was erected in 1748 as it can now be seen: a very solid construction that has withstood the weather and inclement weather for around three hundred years, centered on the worship of God.

At the time of the looting of pirates and buccaneers, La Merced was used to keep their hostages, one of the reasons why the temple survived the fire of the former town of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe founded on February 2, 1514.

The 14 stations of the Via-Crucis or Way of the Cross (one of the oldest devotions practiced by Catholics around the world) stand out in this patrimonial jewel. These are images of the painful moments lived by Jesus since he was apprehended until his crucifixion and burial. (On Good Friday 1991 and, under the auspices of John Paul II, a new Via Crucis was created with 15 stations).

Camino a la Cruz that occupy columns of the Agramontino Temple are the most beautiful and best preserved of the also known Ciudad de los Tinajones. It is sculpted in wood and plaster and was made in Italy in 1926 commissioned by 14 benefactors.

The works represent Jesus Christ when he is condemned to death, with the cross on his shoulders, when he falls for the first time, when he meets his mother, his Mary.

The moment when Simon Cyrene helps him carry the cross, the images of Veronica cleaning the face of Jesus, when he falls for the second time, the moment when he comforts the women who cry, when he falls for the third time, when he is stripped. of his clothes, nailed to the cross, when he died on the cross, when he was taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of his mother, when he was buried and when he was resurrected on Easter Sunday.

The permanent deacon Florencio Palacio Bonachea mentioned among others of the relics of the religious installation the Holy Sepulcher, which constitutes a tradition when used in the Holy Week processions since 1642. It represents a work of art made by the Mexican artist Juan Benítez y Alfonso.

In addition, a pictorial work is preserved in which the author uses the marouflage technique (the adhesion of a textile support to a wall), and represents Jesus and the Shepherd.

Likewise, they proudly keep the acana cross that crowned the church’s bell tower for 251 years, which was removed due to its poor condition on February 2, 1999. In its place, an identical to the original was placed on 12 February of that same year.

In the Temple of Our Lady of Mercy in Camagüey, as was common at the time, graves were made from its foundation and until 1814 when the cemetery of the Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe was established.

Palacio Bonachea affirms that some of those burials were found in the 1990s of the last century, which are preserved in the presbytery.

I specify that the Temple is closely related to the Wars for the Independence of Cuba as it is located less than five meters from the birthplace of the patriot of Camagüey Major General Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz. There are also the remains of ancestor families of whom he was also known as El Mayor.

The altar, with its wooden altarpiece (acquired in Spain and still preserved), is a donation made in 1906 by Dolores de Betancourt y Agramonte, the patriot’s family, to replace the existing one affected by a fire that devastated that area of ​​the Temple .

THE HOLY SEPULCHER

In one of the Temple slabs, it is stated that the Holy Sepulcher is a pottery work that originally weighed 551 pounds and measured 2.10 meters high, 2.26 wide and 1.30 meters high.

Manufactured in this same city of Camagüey and whose cost amounted to 23 thousands strong silver pesos liquefied in the courtyard of the convent in public view, many of the attendees taking out coins that they carried expressly in their clothing pockets or in bags to increase their value and size.

It is said that pieces of gold and other metals also entered that fell into the so-called broth when the meta was melting. For the realization of the work, Don Agüero ordered the artist Juan Benítez and Alfonso to be brought from Mexico, who, putting his workshop in the convent itself, finished the work in a few months.

The initial idea of ​​the donor was that the Sepulcher was attached to one of the walls of the temple, but the goldsmith suggested that it be portable in order to be able to remove it in processions.

Don Manuel Agüero y Ortega, main donor of the Sepulcher and his wife, Doña Catalina Bringa de Varona, -according to their testamentary provisions it is known that they are buried in this Temple of Our Lady of Mercy, but unfortunately nowhere in this enclosure are they see the plate or any sign that indicates the space where their remains lie.

This illustrious man who was Don Manuel Agüero, begins this work after forgiving the young man, whom he had practically raised, when one night he appeared at his house to tell him that he had murdered his first-born José Agüero Bringas, with whom he rivaled in a passion loving.

This shattered father allowed and facilitated the escape of the murderer of his son where the rancor of the family did not reach him and decided after his widowhood to become a mercenary friar. Don Manuel, nourished by the evangelical message, forgave the one who took the life of his son and destroyed the chain of violence that could begin. He knew how to focus on Christ the Redeemer and through this work inspired many to forgive and mercy.

Permanent deacon Florencio Palacio Bonachea considers that having preserved the temple of Nuestra Señora de la Merced in Camagüey for almost three centuries is something extraordinary. (Photos by the author) (Translated by Linet Acuña Quilez)

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