The history of the devotion to Our Lady of Charity originated towards the beginning of the 17th century near Santiago, Cuba. Three boys, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos and Juan Moreno, were gathering salt to preserve the town’s meat supply, when a violent storm threatened their small boat. Suddenly the waves calmed and the winds died down and the boys saw what they thought was a bird floating on the sea. When they looked closer, they discovered it was an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus in her arm and a cross in her other hand. Despite being in the storm tossed sea, the statue was not wet. At the bottom of the image was written (in Spanish), “I am the Virgin of Charity.” The boys brought the image back to their town where a chapel was erected which became a pilgrimage site.
Pope Benedict XV declared her the patroness of Cuba in 1916 and established her feast day on September 8 and Pope Paul VI elevated the shrine to the dignity of a basilica in 1977. St. John Paul II crowned the image of Our Lady of Charity as “Queen and Patroness of Cuba” during is Apostolic Visit to the country in January 1998. The construction of her national shrine in the United States began in Miami in the 1960’s by Cuban exiles. The image housed and venerated in the shrine is a replica of the original which was smuggled out of the country during the Communist regime.