Santa Catalina Monastery – A step back in time

Santa Catalina Courtyard

One of the biggest architectural and historical sites in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery or Monasteria de Santa Catalina. It is a cloistered convent which means that the nuns who enter cannot see their family or friends again as they take a vow of seclusion. The monastery itself was built in 1579, less than 40 years after the Spanish arrived in Arequipa. It is a large sprawling complex of complicated avenues and hidden cloisters, there are stairs that lead to small upper rooms and hidden gardens and nooks and crannies everywhere. The full monastery measures 20 000 square metres and is unique in the sense that it has vividly painted walls and fresco paintings in the arches.

Archways and Paintings
Nooks and Crannies

The Monastery is interesting in that the woman who founded the monastery was a rich widow and required the nuns who wanted to enter the monastery to pay a dowry of the equivalent today of US$ 50 000.00. A handsome sum in anyones books. The nuns who entered the monastery had up to 4 slaves working for them and lavish parties and musical entertainment were quite normal.  In 1871, Pope Pius IX sent a Dominican nun to reform the monastery and the dowries were sent back to Europe and the slaves were freed. Apparently at one time, the monastery housed about 450 nuns, but today there are only 20 nuns on the premises.

Courtyard and Nuns residence

The monastery is magnificent both architecturally and design wise. It is a haven in the midst of a large and encroaching city. When we were in the monastery it felt as it we had stepped back in time. The walls are very high because of the vows of seclusion that were taken, so no contact with the outside world is allowed. This adds to the sense of seclusion and solitude, even the city sounds are blocked out and it was a really peaceful and restful time.

Detail of a carving
The orange tree Courtyard
Arch & Stairs
Stairs and Flowers
Jesus on the Cross
Santa Catalina Cathedral
Blue - so much colour
Bell Tower
Nuns Residences
Great Cloister
Room with a view
Door Detail
Roof Window

3 thoughts on “Santa Catalina Monastery – A step back in time”

  1. I am amazed at the colours of the buildings – which I assume are adobe – I expected only white and brown.

  2. The pictures are really lovely, i go into lightimages everyday hoping to see more, it is so interesting to see how other people live and their traditions.Uncle Mike is away will be back on Monday 19th April hope he has a good holiday .All my love Mom xxxxx

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