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The lady in blue of the Castillo de Jagua Fortress

Published: 2017.02.01 - 16:02:09   /  /  Alina Iglesias Regueyra  /  translated by  Luis E. Amador Dominguez  /

"Cienfuegos is the city that I like the most," Benny Moré would sing. But the recommendation came from a reliable source, because the creator was born in the town of Santa Isabel de las Lajas, located in that central Cuban province, of which today I tell you a legend that has much to do with its beautiful bay and the majestic castle that stands on its banks.

The construction of the Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua Fortress occurred many years before the emergence of the population of Fernandina de Jagua, later Cienfuegos, and was a rare occurrence in the history of military architecture, in a time where fortifications were generally built for the defense of populations that had been previously founded.

In those days, the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea were a breeding ground for pirates and corsairs, whose ships pierced them as if it were the palm of their hand. For that reason, the inhabitants of all the islands lived permanently armed. In addition, the extensive and rugged Cuban coasts, the Spanish belligerence against other European powers and the corrupt colonial administration, made Cuba a focus of attraction for maritime banditry.

The beautiful bay of Jagua was also an ideal place for the so-called rescue or smuggling trade, one of the first Creole manifestations of voluntarism before an oppressive, capricious and absorbing administration. So that since 1682, the Royal Company of Commerce of Havana had plans to build a fortification on the banks of the Bay of Jagua, and it was commissioned to the military engineer Joseph Tantete Dubruller, who completed it in 1745.

Built within the canons of Renaissance architecture, its gigantic ashlars of more than one-meter wide stand out, which are extracted from the Pasacaballo quarries. Its solidity contrasts with the soft beauty of the seascape that can be seen from the bay.

The fort, equipped with cannons of diverse caliber and a garrison of soldiers, had as first commander of the fortress the soldier Don José Castilla Cabeza de Vaca. He and his wife, Doña Leonor de Cárdenas, lived in the Castillo de Jagua until his death, and it is said they were buried in that same place.

From then on, during the darkest nights, a huge bird of prey of strange and frightening appearance, began to fly over the Castillo de Jagua whirling in spirals, while it squawked. At its call, the silhouette of a tall, elegant woman, dressed in blue, jeweled and covered with a transparent veil of the same color fluttered in the air, and passed through the walls of the chapel of the castle.

The soldiers assigned to the castle were soon frightened by these new events, and many refused to cover night guard duties. They preferred to face the cruelest and criminal pirates to dealing with those ghostly apparitions.

Nevertheless, the second lieutenant Don Gonzalo, boastful and skeptical, mocked at the cowardice of his comrades-in-arms and laughed at their supposedly vain fears.

As soon as he could, he placed himself on guard, full of curiosity and devoid of faith. And there in the open, after the clock struck at midnight, he saw the ghost of the lady in blue rise from the wall of the chapel. His fellow guards fled while Don Gonzalo prepared himself to face that absurd vision.

At dawn, Don Gonzalo's colleagues, surprised by his absence, returned to where they had left him last night. The young man lay on the floor, under the effects of a faint that left him with his mental faculties unbalanced. At the side of him, they found his sword broken in two pieces, a skull and a mysterious blue cloak.

Don Gonzalo spent his remaining days in a hospital for the insane, deprived of his conscience. The lady in blue of Cienfuegos continued making her night appearances until today. They say that she wanders between the walls of the castle until the first rays of sun appear, and then she goes away by the shore as if she walked.

To feed the legend I tell you that, about three years ago, during the current restoration of the building, human remains were discovered that indicate the existence of an old burial inside the fortress.

Marisol Otero, director of the Museum that resides there today, explained that the finding of vertebrae, phalanges, teeth and parts of human skull, took place when the floor of the chapel was lifted to replace it with a similar but new one.

In this regard, the researcher and archaeologist Alfredo Ranking was consulted, and he explained that in that chapel other bones must appear, because it was also conceived as a place for burials. In addition, he remembered as an unusual fact the finding of a woman's shoe, for only military troops spent time there ever since its construction. The female presence was an exception, as was the wife of the first commander of the Fortress, whom some associate with the legend of the lady in blue, explained the scientist.

Today many think that the apparition is the ghost of Doña Leonor de Cárdenas, and the bird that calls her is the spirit of her husband. There are those who say that the young lieutenant determined to face her was an old lover or a fervent lover of the beautiful woman who, eager to see her again, found madness and death in that act.

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