Santa Catalina Monastery – Day 147

Wed 27th Jun

Me and my 2 new friends Amber and Kim meet at 1030 and take a stroll around the bustling central market full of food, great fruit and veg and other interesting things – bull’s balls, penis and tail anyone!!!

After sorting a few things for tomorrow’s hike, we decide to visit the Santa Catalina Convent. Entry is a bit on the pricey side (40s) and we decide there’s no point walking round without the info to go with the place so Kay a further 20s between us for a guide.

Built in 1579, it is one of the largest monasteries in the world and is housed like its own town within its own walls. It served as a cloister for Dominican nuns from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and still houses a small religious community today. The complex, which stretches over 20,000 square meters, is built from volcanic sillar stone and is organized into cloisters, living quarters that contained over 80 houses, a plaza, a gallery, and a chapel.

The founder was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the Church, and the monastery only accepted women from rich Spanish families. Each family paid a dowry for their daughter’s admission and cost 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to about £115000 in today’s money.

In its hey day the monastery housed over 180 nuns. Today it is still open, housing now only about 20. Many jokes are made about how they’re still open to new entrants…!

We start the tour in a room where mins could talk to visiting family but it was more like a large confessional box. The nuns couldn’t see their family, 2 rooms being separated by a gauze to talk through. The nuns weren’t allowed to talk in private either, always accompanied by another acting as a listener. The Dominicans were a very strict sect of the Catholic Church.

In one of the cloisters, above there are 55 paintings representing each bead on the rosary

Children entered at age 12 and never left. As said before, their parents paid a lot of money for entry and paying every year.

Girls did 4 years training until the age of 16 then became a junior nun.

They had solitary rooms where they spent all of their time. Using chamber pots rather than leaving to use the bathroom. They left their room only twice a day…once for mass and again briefly for some fresh air. Food was served through the window. Their beds were under an arch to try and protect them if an earthquake struck

We asked a lot of questions – did the girls like it here, did they want to come, did they want to escape, suicide etc. Our guide explains that it is hard to know. Everything here was censored or listened upon. There are no diaries of the nuns. We were told that a family member of one of the nuns came to visit out of curiosity and said that her aunt who was a nun had told her visiting family when the listening nun got called out of the room that it was an awful place – but who knows.

The young nuns used to penance themselves. This took several firms – starvation, whip etc which could lead to the ultimate penance – death. They couldn’t commit suicide as it was seen as the biggest sin but penance was a different story. It could have been viewed as a competitive streak amongst the girls – look how much she is doing, I must do more or better or, could have been used as a disguise to free themselves from the Convent…

You could tell the nuns were from wealthy backgrounds and didn’t conform to the normal hardworking way of thinking – each house here had a set of 4 servants ranging from cleaners to cooks.

So good was this school that rich families used to send their kids here for ladies skills training. They entered at age 3, left at age 12 and equipped with the skills to be a good wife entered into an arranged marriage. Most girls preferred marrying older man hoping they’d die quick and be free to marry whom they chose as a widower!

In 1871, big changes were afoot. The Pope made the decision to change how women entered into the life of the church after realising they were just full of rich women who didn’t necessarily want to be there. Servants were gotten rid of, riches sent back, no more paid entry but entry through choice or a calling, no more private houses but dormitories and centralised kitchens where nuns could now congregate and communicate together.

There is a big dorm in the shape of the cross. A painting hung above each bed. These sleeping arrangements were changed to single rooms in 1970.

The tour ends but we go for another look around to see some of the nooks and crannies the tour left out.

It’s a lovely place painted brightly in parts, beautiful garden areas and a cute outside washing area.

We leave full of info but hungry having missed lunch so go to a great burger place called Chulls – definitely worth a visit!

From here we have to go to Naturaleza Activa for our pre trek briefing. We get our tent, sleeping stuff and cold cold weather gear. They didn’t gave much to choose from and luckily what they had fit us – apart from mine being humongous – but better be too big and warm! A North Face jacket like a duvet!

Once done, we head to our hostels for bed, nervous sand excited for the next 2 days…..

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