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Honoring San Lázaro in Santiago

By Grete Viddal, Religion, traditions and folklore Add comments

Every year on December 17th, Saint Lazarus’ feast day, drums, or sometimes violins, can be heard throughout the evening in many neighborhoods in Santiago de Cuba as ceremonies (referred to as “bembés”) are held to honor this saint. San Lázaro’s statue is dressed with decorative cloth and offerings of foods, flowers, candles, and cigars are placed at his feet. Violin music is considered “sweet” and pleasing to him. San Lázaro protects devotees against disease and misfortune. This photo was taken in 2008 at the home of an espiritista (Spiritist) of Haitian descent. She held a combined feast for San Lázaro and Santa Bárbara. The violinists are a father and daughter.

In Santiago, the connection between San Lázaro and his Regla de Ocha/Santería counterpart Babalu Ayé is not emphasized. For example there was no mention of Babalu Ayé during the Vodu-inflected Spiritist ritual where I took this picture.

In 2008-2009, I lived for ten months in the home of a Santiagueran santera, a scholarly person who was very familiar with varied manifestations of Cuban religion. She prepared a large ceremony to add San Lázaro to her spiritual pantheon. Those officiating remarked that this ritual was “new” in eastern Cuba and more typically associated with Havana. In fact, some of the objects necessary for the event were brought from Havana, as they were difficult to obtain in Santiago, specifically the cazuelas or clay pots needed to house San Lázaro’s spiritually charged items, called fundamentos. Babalu Ayé was not emphasized during this ceremony either; participants referred to the ritual as “receiving San Lázaro.”  In Santiago, eastern Cuba, Santa Bárbara and her Santería counterpart Shangó are clearly connected, but San Lazaro’s link with Babalu Ayé appears to be less established.

2 Responses to “Honoring San Lázaro in Santiago”

  1. Dominic Says:

    In what ways was it influenced by Vodou?
    I’ve never heard of the Vodou influence on Espiritismo before!

  2. ariana Says:

    Hi Dominic, just stay tuned for Grete Viddal’s dissertation!

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