Hospital de San Lazaro, Havana

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Hospital San Lazaro, Havana
Hospital San Lazaro 2. Havana, Cuba.jpg
General information
LocationBarrio San Lazaro
AddressCalle Marina
Town or cityHavana
Coordinates23°08′27″N 82°22′31″W / 23.140853°N 82.375349°W / 23.140853; -82.375349Coordinates: 23°08′27″N 82°22′31″W / 23.140853°N 82.375349°W / 23.140853; -82.375349
RelocatedDecember 26, 1916
Antenna spire50 feet
Technical details
Structural systemLoad bearing masonry
MaterialStone (brick?)
Floor count2
Known forFirst leper hospital in Cuba
Map of 1900 showing Hospital de San Lazaro, Espada Cemetery, La Casa de Beneficencia y Maternidad de La Habana, The Batreria de La Reina, the Caleta de S. Lazaro and las canteras
Hospital San Lazaro 5. Havana, Cuba.jpg
Hospital San Lazaro 6. Havana, Cuba.jpg
Hospital San Lazaro 1. Havana, Cuba.jpg
Hospital San Lazaro 3. Havana, Cuba.jpg

The Hospital San Lazaro dates back to the seventeenth century, when it served as headquarters for some huts built near the Caleta de Juan Guillén, then known as Caleta de San Lázaro, in an area about a mile outside the city walls.


In view of the deplorable situation of the leprosy patients, the chaplain of the hospital presbyter Juan Pérez de Silva and Dr. Francisco Teneza went to the King of Spain, His Majesty Felipe V, asking for his help;[1] the Real Hospital de San Lázaro, built on the Juan Guillén Cove in 1781 and the church inside the two-story building became a pilgrimage frequented by those suffering from leprosy and followers of San Lázaro or Babalú Ayé seeking spiritual solace.[2]


The site of San Lazaro Hospital was between present-day Calles Vapor and San Lazaro, the hospital entrance faced present day Calle Marina; the hospital was close to the Espada Cemetery, the San Dionisio mental asylum, and La Casa de Beneficencia y Maternidad de La Habana, all were close to the Caleta de Juan Guillén. The quarry of San Lazaro where Jose Marti had been imprisoned in 1870, was to the west of Calle Principe; the former location of La Casa de Beneficencia is the current location of Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital. The site today encompasses Cayo Hueso which is a consejo popular (ward) in the municipality of Centro Habana. A traditionally working-class neighborhood populated by Afro-Cubans, it is known for its many cultural landmarks such as the Callejón de Hamel, the Fragua Martiana Museum and the Parque de los Mártires Universitarios. Cayo Hueso formed part of Barrio San Lázaro, an area bounded by Calle Infanta to the west, Calle Zanja to the south, Calle Belascoáin to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the north. Cayo Hueso was declared a barrio on 26 July 1912 and made part of Centro Habana upon its establishment in 1963.


By a royal decree dated June 19, 1714, His Majesty Felipe V ordered the foundation of the Royal Hospital of San Lazaro. In 1781, the leprosarium was finished in the Caleta de Juan Guillén, which had two floors, with a monumental front that served as a facade to a church, located at the center of the building.

Because it was before the Malecon was built (1901) and subject exposure from the sea, various cyclones damaged the structure of the building. In addition, because of the cove, it was a site that was prone to attack. Havana was taken by the English in the Siege of Havana, a military action from March to August 1762, the siege was part of the Seven Years' War. Ecu Red writes in regard to this area:

"The historical richness of the territory is incalculable through the times, dates from the sixteenth century, when the French corsair Jacques de Sores, on July 10, 1555, penetrated through the cove of Juan Guillen (today San Lázaro) between the Torreón and the Parque Maceo, who took, looted and burned Villa de San Cristobal de La Habana, which was defended with courage by Mayor Juan de Lobera, his men and the villagers. The Cabildo of September 26, 1664, determined to build a fortress next to the cove, one league from the Villa, he himself served as a lookout, he was placed a lit torch to warn the presence of an enemy ship. Today, this monument represents the Municipality of Centro Habana, as a symbol of rebellion and dignity of a heroic people. On July 26, 1912, Cayo Hueso is officially recognized as a neighborhood."[3]

There were continuous complaints from the neighbors who saw in leprosy patients a source of lethal contagion endangering their lives as well as a threat to public safety; this grievance was led by the government and the representatives of the powerful urban owners who threatened to stop their investments in the area of Vedado, thus the leprosy patients were promptly removed from Barrio San Lazaro.[1]


On December 26, 1916, the patients were informed that they would be transferred to the Mariel lazaretto (hospital for lepers) which gave rise to violent scenes. Finally, the patients had to leave their former home, but not before receiving the commitment that they would be taken to Rincon once the work on the new leprosarium was completed. In proof of guarantee, they were accompanied by the priest Apolinar López and the religious consecrated of the order Daughters of the Charity. While the works in Rincón advanced, the patients were transferred to Mariel and housed in miserable barracks that the Spanish government had used for quarantine of immigrants and troops, without having the minimum conditions for the existence of human beings

The Rincon is a town located about 25 miles from the center of Havana and close to Santiago de las Vegas, belonging to the current municipality of Boyeros; this locality limits with the towns of Bejucal, San Antonio de los Baños, Wajay and Bauta, territories that until April of 2011 belonged to the province of Havana. Rincon is one of the largest religious pilgrimages and on December 17 people from all over Cuba visit the church of the leper colony.[4]

A few months later on February 26, 1917 without adequate means of transportation; In carts, plates and wooden ambulances pulled by horses or oxen, the patients were taken to the hospital in Rincón half-built, far from the city, and without resources to take care of the sick. After the strenuous journey from Mariel, the patients arrived in Rincon and found a bitter reality: the hospital consisted of a few pavilions still unfinished, in the middle of a muddy field, without running water or electricity, without streets, without nursing, and without accommodation of their religious needs; the priest Apolinar López and the superior mother, Sister Ramona Idoate, were those who, with great strength of spirit and personal sacrifice, achieved the conditioning of the place, for which they relied fundamentally on the donations and alms of devotees.

Later the first families affected by leprosy arrived and who settled there for medical treatment and patients from various other hospitals that had been closed for the purpose of concentrating the large numbers of lepers. By Law of July 31, 1917, thirty million pesos were issued in loan bonds, although the existence of the leprosarium continued to depend on the public contribution and donations of the believers.

After so many vicissitudes, the pavilions were finished and the patients lodged; the facility had 42 buildings, 13 of them for patients, and the rest for the administration, the accommodation of the religious, the church and various other necessities.[1]


Hospital San Lazaro. Havana, Cuba

The building was a hybrid: a church inside of a courtyard with an entrance to both through a classical pediment over a tripartite portico.[1] The placement of the church in the center, divides the courtyard into 2 equal spaces thus creating equal flows of circulation, one in front and another at the rear of the church. The passages between the courtyards are similar to many of the 8-meter open porticoes throughout the city[2], they have a curious detail in that the wall separating the courtyard from the outside has a series of windows[3]. The church is protected by several layers of walls so it is an ideal design against cyclones and hurricanes; the church has a single nave; a 'uninave' is a typical Cuban church architecture type and could have served as model for the renovation in 1926 for Iglesia Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje, Havana by the architectural firm of Leonardo Morales y Pedroso, architects of El Colegio de Belen. Both buildings have a semi long nave, with larger crossing and rooms at the side; the roof over the crossing is the largest room in the composition.[4]


  1. ^ a b c "Real Hospital de San Lázaro (provincia de La Habana)". Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  2. ^ "Santuario Nacional de San Lázaro". Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  3. ^ "Cayo Hueso (Centro Habana)". Retrieved 2018-11-03.
  4. ^ "Pilgrimage to San Lazaro in Rincón". Retrieved 2018-12-10.

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