The Santa Catalina Monastery

Quick info:

– The Monastery is easy to find: it is located at the heart of Arequipa

– The entrance costs 40 Soles. The money goes to the nuns who still live inside

– It costs about 20 soles for a guide (various languages available English, German, Portuguese, etc.)

– You may visit the Monastery on your own, or pay a guide(separate fee).

– Pay the extra money to get a guide to explain the history and show you around (you may choose not to)

For more information:

The Santa Catalina Monastery was founded by Maria de Guzman, a rich widow, some 40 years after the arrival of the Spanish in 1579. Since its beginning, it is a monastery for women who serve as nuns and they would never come out. Traditionally, the second daughter or son of a Spanish family had to dedicate themselves to religion. The women could start entering the monastery as young as 12 years of age, by obligation. During the first four years, they lived almost in complete isolation, as they were trained to dedicate their time to religion. They had a small room and could only bring 25 objects with them (including clothes). After four years, they could decide to stay or choose to leave, the latter would normally mean a big shame on their family.

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After the reform of 1871, the nuns lived more of a communal life. This way of life was difficult for some of the nuns to accept, after living alone in isolation and dedicating their time to work and oration. The nuns were obliged to cook and eat together, as well as sleep in beds in a big room. They made bread, jam and sweets (that they would sell) and could go outside the monastery walls on certain occasions.

The monastery ofSanta Catalinais the most important architectural construction in the city ofArequipa, and was left barely destroyed even after 14 earth quakes, the last one occurring in 2001. It was open to the public only in 1970, after its restoration from the earthquakes of 1958 and 1960. This transformed the city ofArequipaofficially turning it into an international tourist center and attraction. To this day, you can only see maybe 30% of the 20 000 square meter construction. Inside, it is almost like a city, the nuns would have houses with the size depending on how much money their families have, with furniture, art, streets, plazas and even one or more servants! To this day, there are about 25 nuns living there, the youngest being 23 years old.

Usually the women that entered at a young age never really had the time to fall in love. Our guide told us a story about this one girl who entered the monastery at 16 years old after being heartbroken when her lover married a richer woman. She stayed several years, dedicated to religion, but eventually she started planning her escape. With the help from her servant and her friend who was a guard at the door, she actually succeeded. The guard and the servant sneaked in a dead body in order to fake her death. They say that eventually she came back to the monastery claiming some money she said they owed her or something and no one believe it was her, alive, because they had found a body when she supposedly died.


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