Parish Church of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

By Brother Jesus Bayo Mayor, FMS

Iglesia parroquial de Jesús, María y José

The hermitage of an emblematic neighborhood of outside the walls

The current parish of Jesus, Maria and José comprises the territory bounded by the streets Egido, Monte, Arroyo and Avenida del Puerto. Avenida de España (Vives) and Calle Aguila divide the space inhabited by the population into four sectors. The neighborhood belongs to the Municipality of Old Havana and has within its perimeter historic constructions.
In the shadow of this parish and the ceibas that adorn the parks of the sector was developed the neighborhood of Jesús María. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the lands of outside the city, where it is located today, received several names: Demajagual, Manglar and San José del Real Astillero, as they were parky lands, populated with majaguas and mangroves, on which the Royal Shipyard of San José was later built.
In these lands, since the end of the seventeenth century settlements of settlers were formed that had no place within the walled city. Apparently, the first to settle were the “black curros” who came from Spain and settled in this territory where they built houses of adobe, guano and yaguas, so they were also known as “the mangrove curros”.1
Then came the workers and the workers of the arsenal, the tobacco factory and the shipyard. In 1713 Real Arsenal was created in the east sector of outside the walls of Havana, next to the Puerta de la Tenaza (Closed Gate) on the wall. In 1717, when the tobacco monopoly was declared, the Tobacco and Tobacco Factory was founded for the purchase, storage and control from the Metropolis; this factory was installed in the same building that had previously occupied the Hospital del Pilar.2 As a result of the tobacco monopoly, the peasant protests and the uprising of the sails began in 1723.
In 1725 the Havana Shipyard was reactivated, which was the largest in America. And in 1734, by royal certificate, the transfer of the shipyard in the bay, between Sol and Luz streets, was authorized to an area further away from the intramural city. It would be the large 18th century shipyard located in the coastal area where today is the Central Railway Station, which will soon be completely renovated and restored.3
Around the shipyard, the arsenal and the tobacco factory, the population of outside the walls was growing in that neighborhood where a hermitage would also be built. The factories in the sector gave work to workers, peasants, ranchers, artisans and traders. On the other hand, the ordinances of the time on urbanization only allowed to build within the city those buildings and houses that were masonry and had roofs of shingle. The simple constructions (wood, lime and singing, adobe and guano roof) had to be built in outside the walls, where the poorest people were based: manual workers, freed slaves (blacks and black curros), illegal emigrants without fixed residence or room.
The population increased in the neighborhood, but there was difficulty for the Christian faithful to participate in the masses held in the temples within the city. This marginal population began to be cared for by the priests of the Oratory of San Felipe Neri. The superior of that society in Havana, Father Manuel José del Rincón, as a missionary of this population, saw the need to build a hermitage in the neighborhood to pay religious attention to the population. He requested permission from Bishop Pedro Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz, who authorized the construction, probably after consulting and informing the civil authorities. Granted permission, alms were raised between the neighborhood and benefactors for funding.

Construction work began in 1753 and was completed three years later, so that on November 6, 1756, the primitive hermitage was inaugurated in that neighborhood of San José del Real Astillero, made up of workers and craftsmen.4 That is why it was put under the patronage of the Sagrada Familia: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.5 In time, the hermitage would give name to the neighborhood and the street that led from the intramural city to the neighborhood of Jesus Mary. Paradoxically, over the years the name of Saint Joseph, patron saint of laborers and craftsmen, was removed. It is said that in the neighborhood there were villagers who were looking for easy money without working and, as the popular saying goes, “gambling and bad arts are attacking the working class.” I prefer to explain the abbreviation for the tendency of language to simplify the names, which produced the suppression or ellipsis of St. Joseph in the toponymy of the neighborhood.
In 1755, Bishop Pedro Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz, in the account of his Pastoral Visit, named the hermitage of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as one of the four that existed within the territory and jurisdiction of the parish of Guadalupe (the other three were from the Christ of Health, St. Louis Gonzaga and St. Lazarus). According to the story, the four hermitages had a similar surface area (eleven rods of longitude by six latitude and altitude), were constructed of lime and singing (masonry) and had a roof of shingle.
After the completion of the urbanization of the neighborhood in the middle of the nineteenth century, the temple was located between the streets Alcantarilla (present-day Vives, or Ave. of Spain), Revillagigedo, Eagle and Puerta Cerrada, with a park to the north side of the temple in which four leafy ceibas have grown.

The parish and its evolution to the present day

The extramural ward of Jesus, Mary and Joseph grew more and more and the primitive hermitage was expanded and declared an auxiliary parish by Bishop Santiago Hechevarría in 1773. Baptisms, marriages and deaths have been recorded in the parish archives since the end of the same year.6
The departures of the sacraments, as can be seen in the Record Books, were settled and signed by the lieutenant priest benefiting, high schooler Gregorio Alvarez. The parish of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was an auxiliary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located at that time at the intersection of Eagle and Monte streets, as we can imagine today when considering the compass that marks the current Alley of Sigh. (Apparently, many people in this ward sighed and lamented when the temple was demolished by order of the governor in 1763.)
The first christening settled in Book 1 (Baptisms of Blacks and Browns 1773-1778) corresponds to a girl named Maria de la Luz Dámaso Oria y Gómez baptized on the eleventh of December.7 (The texture of the paper made with silk thread, the quality of the ink and calligraphy make it easy to read the manuscripts, even the abbreviations usually used at the time).
The oldest marriage party is set out in Book 1 (Marriages of Browns and Morenos 1773-1821). As recorded, on December 11, 1773 Lorenzo Torres, a Carabalí slave, and Josefa Díaz, a Carabalí slave, were married, as read in the preserved manuscript.8

The first baptismal games, recorded in the twentieth century, indicate that the church is an auxiliary parish. The one who scored and signed is the lieutenant of a priest who benefited, a high schooler Named Gregorio Alvarez, who served in office from 1773 to 1793. The oldest games are recorded in the Books of “Pardos y Morenos” of baptisms and marriages, and at the same time there are other Books with the records corresponding to “Spanish and white”. For this reason we can deduce the origin of parishioners in the parish: Spanish, Creole, Carabalí, Congo.
After the hurricane that hit Havana in 1844, the primitive temple deteriorated, but its construction was restored and expanded with funds granted by the Crown at the request of the Captaincy. Restoration work was completed in 1851, bringing the temple to a revaluation and beautifiment. As a result, in 1852 by royal certificate of Queen Elizabeth II, the parish was described as “of term”, as were the other churches of intramurals and outside the walls of Havana. According to the use of the time, the parishes had a degree that affected the prestige and benefits of the parish priests, depending on the magnitude, the ornate and the number of inhabitants. This royal certificate recognized the importance and population growth in Havana’s suburbs.9
The historian Pezuela in 1863 describes the church in the following terms: “It is of simple but solid construction; it forms an irregular quadrilong of 70 rods in length, with side and facade to the square and street of the same name (Calle Real de Jesús María). It measures 43 rods of maximum height on the nave, and the tower is 41 rods high, square and with three holes on the second floor.”
In 1928 a restoration of the temple was carried out and expanded to his left with a side chapel dedicated to Jesus Nazarene, whose brotherhood had a lot of devotion in the neighborhood. This chapel and the restoration of the temple were paid for by the donations of the faithful and the contributions of the benefactor Ms. América Arias, widow of President José Miguel Gómez. The refracted temple was watered with new hardwood benches, tiled flooring, floor-to-ceiling windows, new altars, paint and electric light.
A commemorative plaque in which he was chapel of Jesus Nazarene, today chapel of the Most Holy, reads like this:


In the first half of the twentieth century, the parish priests Manuel de Jesús Doval (1899-1914) and Francisco García Vega (1915-1958) distinguished the same. Between the two priests they served the parish for sixty years, a long period of pastoral boom that coincides with the expansion of the temple in 1928 and with economic and demographic growth in the neighborhood, in Havana and in Cuba. (Remember that the island had one and a half million inhabitants in 1900 and became three million in 1930, to double the population again in 1960 with six million inhabitants).) During this period the parish apostolate also extended to social and educational action, especially through the parish school that was built adjacent to the church, which was led by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, until in 1961 it was nationalized.10
During the last forty years of the twentieth century, the temple suffered deterioration and constructive wear and tear typical of inclement weather and the passage of years. At the same time, the parish community declined as a result of adverse circumstances, although temple worship was always maintained. From venerable memory, Fr. Roberto Caraballo (1958–1980) was appointed by Cardinal Arteaga as his successor to Fr. Francisco García Vega, and served as a parish priest for twenty-two years. During this period the parish suffered from the scarcity of economic resources and the decline of the faithful, which was no obstacle for this Galician priest to maintain his teson and patience. He faithfully served his ministry until he died suddenly in January 1981.
Fr. Caraballo was succeeded on an interim side by the priests Jacinto Valladares (capuchin of the Christ of Cleans), René David (of the Seminary) and Francisco Padrón (of the Salesians), until Fr. Michel Martin, belonging to the Sons of Charity, arrived in 1984. The parish was entrusted by the archbishop to this congregation until 2014, when at the request of its Moderators, they left Cuba. During this long period, in addition to careful pastoral care, the Sons of Charity made arrangements in the temple and in the adjoining dwelling, despite the scarcity of resources, constructive wear and tear of the place.
In the 21st century Fr. Martirián Marbán gave a strong pastoral impetus to the parish, in particular from social action and catechesis, the pastoral care of adolescents and workers. He also worried about the maintenance of the temple and carried out painting and renovation work on the electrical system during his years as parish priest between 1998 and 2013.
After leaving the Sons of Charity of Cuba, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino asked the Marist Brothers to collaborate in the parish and reside in it to evangelize with his presence in the neighborhood. The Marist community accepted the request, while collaborating in the youth and catechetical pastoral care of the archdiocese, in the formation of seminarians and in the Center for Ecclesiastical Studies Félix Varela.
During 2014 and 2015 arrangements and painting were made in the temple, by the archbishopric. These interventions failed to address the impacts of the historic building and its tower, which had been severely damaged by the explosion of the ship La Coubre in 1960. The collapses that occurred during 2018 in the side chapels forced the closure of the temple and propping up the roofs until they were restored. Meanwhile, the Christian community gathers for celebrations in the parish hall. We hope that the restorations on the occasion of Havana’s fifth centenary will also reach the buildings of “extramurals”, and that the Christian community will remain alive in this parish of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Some curiosities of the temple

The current image of the Sagrada Familia presiding over the main altar of the temple was commissioned by Father Roberto Caraballo y Escobedo, who sought benefactors and organized various activities in the parish to obtain funds. The other image that was smaller was put in the parish hall, and is currently in the entrance hall that does reception and secretarial functions.
The bulk image of Jesus Nazarene has a face that arouses mercy and devotion in the faithful who venerate it. It had a very active brotherhood and a chapel dedicated in the left wing of the temple, although progressively the brotherhoods have disappeared, as happened with the archfraterny of Charity that also had numerous activities.
One of the most striking and imposing images of the temple is that of Saint Blas for its large size, its mahogany making and its polychromy, somewhat deteriorated by time. Many people still admire this image on whose flanks it has two watchful lions.
In the temple tower are preserved four bells of different size and with mediocre state of conservation. Each of them hangs from its corresponding wooden yoke on the arches that the bell tower has oriented to the cardinal points.
The southern bell is in bad shape, harpooned and without a badajo. It is not inscribed the year of its foundry, but it has a well-preserved wedge that says: “Built by José Calbeto”, and is adorned throughout its upper perimeter with a curious embossed wave.
The northern bell is the largest, although it has a slight harpoon. It is in use and has a badajo that produces a pitiful sound. It has engraved the year of casting: 1827, and a cross of ornament.
The west bell is in regular condition. It has inscribed on its perimeter the date of foundry: YEAR 1828, and a cross of ornament. It’s not touched because it lacks a badajo.
The east bell is the oldest and best preserved. Although it is small, it has badajo and produces good sound when dotted. It has the following inscription: YEAR OF 1692. SANCTE IOSEPH ORA PRO NOBIS. (We could assume, as a guess or hypothesis, that this ancient bell belonged to the primitive hermitage and may well be a donation from Arsenal or the Royal Shipyard of San Jose.)
In the ancient sacristy of the temple is preserved a painting of great proportions painted in oil, where appears the Virgin of Carmen rescuing the souls of purgatory, whose authorship is attributed to the painter Nicolás de la Escalera, or some painter of his school.
During the 250 years of the parish, around 73,000 baptisms and 9,500 marriages have been held there, although most of them were performed during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. In the parish there are also baptisms and marriages that are celebrated in the chapel of the Holy Christ of Cleans.
In some Books of Baptisms and Marriages there is evidence of pastoral visits by some bishops. For example, Archbishop Francisco Fleix Solans visited the parish on June 3, 1848 (L 2, Marriages of Pardos and Morenos, f. 108); Archbishop Manuel Santander y Frutos made three visits: on 16 January 1889 (L 3, f. 99 v 100), 8 May 1891 (L 3, f. 101) and 22 March 1897 (L 3, f. 116).

Although we do not have abundant biographical data, the memory of the sacristan Rosendo Granda endures, and there are many testimonies of the spiritual greatness of this musician, singer and minister of the sick, who participated in the parish from 1985 to 27 September 2008, when he died. He eded for his good character, dedication to the sick, honesty, friendship, joy, sincerity and service. Together with him we would have to appoint many people, lay Christians, who have testified of faith, hope and charity, in particular catechists.

About the parish priests

The priests with the longest time spent in the parish are:
Manuel José del Rincón, superior of the San Felipe Neri Oratory, who designed and built the first hermitage and began pastoral work in the neighborhood;
Gregorio Alvarez, the first parish priest, who remained in the ministry for more than twenty years, until his old age, what is perceived in the calligraphy of the last seats of baptism and marriage that he performed diligently and orderly;
Rafael Medina, who spent twenty years in the parish; it was the remodeling in 1851 and the declaration as a parish of term in 1853;
Manuel de Jesús Dobal, who served as minister for fifteen fruitful years of apostolate, in times of social and ecclesial change that came with the independence of Cuba;
Francisco García Vega, the longest-serving priest in this parish, where he gave his life after serving in it for forty-three years.
Roberto Caraballo who remained in the parish for twenty convulsive years, until the end of his life.
Martirián Marbán and the Sons of Charity, who, in times of crisis and decay, were missionaries who were praying to serve in this parish, sensitive to the social reality of the ward, for thirty years.
We hope, in the near future, to write the biography of one of these dedicated and generous parish priests. Ω



1 Cf. Fernando Ortiz: Los negros curros, Havana, 1986, p. 15.
2 The Pilar Hospital was built in 1685, and in 1717 construction was expanded and the Tobacco Factory, which would give its name to Factoría Street, was expanded. The remodeled building would be Military Hospital from 1842 to 1896 when it moved to the heights near the hill of Castle of the Prince, where today is the Calixto García Hospital. The property of the old hospital was transformed into an elementary school in the early years of the Republic; the Normal School was founded there in 1915, and in 1922 the San Ambrosio Barracks was established, until 1960. Since then, the building has fulfilled various functions, and part of it has recently been restored for the accommodation of doctors and teachers. On one of the roofs of the building you can see the wall where the oldest sun clock in Havana marked the hours. From this barracks they communicated with the Castle of Atarés.
3 The Havana Shipyard was one of the most famous in the world. Large ships and ships were built on it. Perhaps the most famous among warships was the Holy Trinity, with 140 cannons in three different levels of fire.
4 Some authors point out that the first Mass was officiated on 8 November 1756, but there is no reliable document to prove it. (Cf. Orlando Bravo: Jesús María, a neighborhood of culture and tradition, Havana, 2006, p. 21).
5 In a brief note on the origin of the parish, written in 2010, Fr. Martirián Marbán says: “According to tradition, the name of the parish comes from the name of the founder Manuel José del Rincón, who, together with that of his parents, formed the names of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph”. (It does not cite documents confirming the tradition to which it refers.)
6 The parish of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was an auxiliary to the parish of Guadalupe, which was initially located at the intersection of Eagle and Monte streets, but then moved and built on the ruins of the ancient hermitage of the Christ of Health, where the lesser basilica of Our Lady of Charity of Copper stands today.
7 Book 1 of Blacks and Browns (1773-1778), folio 1, heading 1 [on the margins]: “Mary of the Dámaso Light. Wednesday twenty-two diz.bre of a thousand seven hundred and seventy-three. I’ D.n. Gregorio Alvarez, Thte Cura of the Ygl by Jesus Maria and Jph in outside the city of Hav.a Bpt.cé and I put the SS oleos to a pá (palrula) that was born at eleven of the current. Legitimate daughter of Juan de Oria and Nicolasa Gómez of this city and of this jurisdiz in the qual exerci the sacred ceremonies and preces and named Maria de la Luz Dámaso. It was his godfather The Cap.n D.n Juan Dominguez whom I warned of the spiritual kinship I hired, and I signed it: Br Gregorio Alvarez”. [Note that the feminine name of Mary of Light was added as a pattern to that of the saint of the day on which she was born: Saint God].
8 Book 1 (Marriages of Pardos and Morenos 1773-1821), folio 1, heading No. 1 [on the margins]: “Lorenzo Torres and María Josefa Díaz, carabalí. In the Ygl.a of Jesus Maria and Jose, outside the walls of this city of Havana, having preseded the ordinary diligences and proclaimed, without havingr resumed impediment, I B.r Dn Gregorio Alvarez, Th.e de Cura Bdo de dha Ygla, in it I married by words of present according to the order of Ntra Sta Madre Ygla, Lorenzo de Torres, , and Josefa of the same nation, slave of Dn Agustín Díaz, residents of this jurisdiction, and asking them in response their mutual consent, of which Dn Galves and Dn Pedro de la Luz Orders witnessed. Godparents: Jose Antonio Castilla and Ma de los Dolores Pardo. They were weak in Christian doctrine, confessed and composed, and I signed it in Diz.bre’s onze of a thousand seven hundred and seventy-three years. Br. Gregorio Alvarez”.
9 “Term” parishes had more category and privileges than “entry”, “ascent” and “auxiliaries”.
10 This was one of the free educational works of the Daughters of Charity for which they had a predilection, and many of them directed and worked in this educational center.
11 To verify the name of the parish priests and their permanence I have consulted the three Books of Marriages of Pardos and Morenos (L), from 1773 to 1913, and the twenty-six Books of General Baptisms (LBG), from 1902 to 2019. It is worth noting the titles of the priests who run the parish: lieutenant priest, commissioned priest, interim priest, parish priest.
12 Cf. Official Ecclesiastical Gazette of the Diocese of Havana, XII, no. 9 (1915), p. 243.


File of the Archbishopric of Havana.
Parish Archive of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Book 1 (784 marriage games of browns and browns, from 1773 to 1821).
Book 2 (778 marriage games of browns and browns, from 1822 to 1861).
Book 3 (298 marriage games of browns and browns, from 1861 to 1913).
Arrate, José Martín Félix de: Key to the New World, Mexico, Economic Culture Fund, 1949.
Bravo, Orlando: Jesús María, a neighborhood of culture and tradition, Havana, 2006.
Calcagno, Francisco: Cuban biographical dictionary, Havana, 1878-1898.
Letters, Francis: Historical and statistical collection of the jurisdiction of Havana by districts, being in each neighborhood the news of history that corresponds to it, as well as the course of population according to the populations made to date, Havana, 1856.
Fernández Santelices, Manuel: The ancient churches of Havana, Miami, Editorial Universal, 1997.
Friguls, Juan Emilio: Catholic Temples of Cuba, Havana, Publicigraf, 1994.
Morell de Santa Cruz, Pedro Agustín: The Ecclesiastical Visit, Havana, Editorial of Social Sciences, 1985.
Ortiz, Fernando: Los negros curros, Havana, Editorial of Social Sciences, 1986.
Pezuela, Jacobo de la: Geographical, statistical and historical dictionary of the Island of Cuba, Madrid, Printing of the Mellado Establishment, 1863, volume 3.

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