Our family recently returned from a “people-to-people” tour of Cuba — one of the most unique sights was definitely “La Milagrosa,” in Havana’s Colon Cemetery:
This is the grave of one Amelia Goyri de Adot, a woman who died in childbirth at 23 years of age on May 3, 1901. Her infant son who also died was buried in her casket, at her feet.
In Cuban practice, two years after a person is buried, their remains are exhumed and cleaned, and the bones (since the rest of the corpse has decayed to dust) are reinterred in an urn. When Amelia’s still-distraught husband opened her casket to perform this family duty, legend has it that her body was found uncorrupted (not decayed), and the infant’s body had moved from her feet to a new position, now nestled in her arms.
Needless to say, this story spread like wildfire. Her husband (who had been visiting her grave daily, as often as three times a day) was soon joined by a stream of pilgrims seeking her intercession with God. When people feel that “La Milagrosa” (The Miraculous One) has answered their pleas, they have often left placards and other tokens of thanks — enough, that a nearby section of the cemetery has been devoted to their display.
Should you find yourself in Havana, and feel moved to visit La Milagrosa (now Cuba’s unofficial patron saint), here’s how custom and tradition dictate you should seek her assistance:
- Knock three times using one of the brass rings on the lid
- Whisper your name and your wish
- Lay down flowers or a gift
- Walk around Amelia’s grave, never turning your back on her statue (so you approach her walking forward, and depart walking backwards)
The statue was carved by José Villa Saavedra in 1902 out of a single piece of Carrara marble.