Cuba is home to the oldest sign of Christianity in the Americas


La Cruz de la Parra (The Sacred Cross of Parra), planted in Eastern Cuba by Christopher Columbus upon his landing in the island, is officially the oldest sign of Christianity in the Americas and perhaps the oldest symbol of the cultural clash, Erick Lappin reports for

With the religious fervor of the time plus the incredibly harsh circumstances of their voyage, it is not surprising that the Genovese admiral and his crew called their arrival to the other side of the Atlantic a miracle.

Among the many goals of the expedition was conquering lands for the Spanish Catholic crown.

Columbus installed a total of 29 crosses that served for Spaniards’ religious practice and to evangelize the native.

“He placed a large cross at the entrance of that port which I believe he named Porto Santo,” wrote Friar Bartolomé de las Casas on Dec. 1, 1492. Porto Santo would be later replaced by Baracoa, the aborigine name for the area.

But, the cross legitimacy goes beyond historical written accounts.

In 1984, Raquel Carrera Rivery, a wood anatomy specialist for the Institute of Forestry Research of the Ministry of Agriculture of Cuba, conducted an extensive scientific study in conjunction with wood expert Roger Dechamps from the Central African Museum in Tervuren, Belgium.

The authenticity of the cross has been challenged through the times. To clear all doubts, the scientists had to prove the age and origin of the relic.

They took fragments and sent them to various research centers. They were compared to 50 different tree species from Europe, 3,200 from Africa, and 4,000 from the Americas.

The scientists concluded that the cross is made of Coccoloba Diversifolia, a tree that populates the Caribbean Antilles including the region where Columbus landed in Eastern Cuba.

The results chattered old rumors that the cross was actually brought from Europe. Either way, carbon dating tests demonstrated with 95 percent accuracy that the date of the fragments oscillates between 860 and 1530 B.C. So, the explorers could make it in 1492.

La Santa Cruz de la Parra or La Cruz de Colon is the only one of Columbus’ crosses that has endured more than five centuries, surviving pirates and corsair’s attacks, hurricanes and historical turbulences.

But, the cross’ role in local folklore, religion and culture is definitely as great as its resilience. La Cruz de la Parra has witnessed many historical events like the first Catholic procession in the New World in 1528 after an earthquake that hit the region.

Many locals considered the cross a divine artifact connected to numerous miracles; therefore, every historical personality that visited the town in colonial times took a piece of it.

That is the case of Spanish General Arsenio Martinez Campos, Captain-General of Cuba, who appropriated of a fragment before his return to Spain in 1879.

The cross extremities were later encased in metal with the purpose of preventing the numerous cuts it was subject to.

La Cruz de la Parra was offered to Pope John Paul II in his historical visit to the island in 1998; but he refused to take away such precious relic from the Cuban people.

The cross was relocated from the bay to an altar in the Minor Basilica of Baracoa in 1757. It is still there.

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