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Arequipa’s Big Secret

sunny 21 °C

The ‘White City” of Arequipa was founded by the Spanish conquistadores in 1540 on the site of a defeated Inca settlement and it gets it nickname from the white rock that was used to build many of its magnificent buildings…
Arequipa, at the southern end of the Peruvian Andes, lies in a valley hemmed in by three great volcanoes chief of which is El Misti which dominates the city’s skyline…
The city has suffered numerous earthquakes in its history, but most of the buildings have survived thanks to their robust stone construction. These are the beautifully restored cloisters of the Church of the Candalaria…
Arequipa is awash in ecclesiastical buildings – ancient and modern – and tucked away a few blocks behind the enormous cathedral and hidden by high walls is the monastery of Santa Catalina. The monastery was built in 1579 to house Fransiscan nuns only from upper class Spanish families and each family paid a dowry equivalent to $150,000 US in today’s currency. For that amount the nun got some fairly spacious digs…
…together with a private loo and her own kitchen…
In addition to the dowry the nuns were required to bring 25 specified items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthier ones had silk curtains sent from China and fine furniture, porcelain and pianos shipped from England…
The monastery covers 2 hectares and is laid out as a small town, with many streets…

…and with several elegant plazas surrounded by the ‘cells’ of the richest nuns who could, if they wished, sell them to newcomers for a sizeable profit…
The nuns of Santa Catalina lived an opulent lifestyle in total secrecy. No outsiders were admitted and visitors could only glimpse their relatives in semi-darkness through a double row of thick wooden latticework. Unlike the nuns in others orders, the nuns here had their own servants and slaves and were only required to recite the Divine Office on a daily basis and make frequent confessions for their (undoubted) multitudinous sins.
This is where the servants did the laundry…
In addition to tales of outrageous wealth and abuse, there were stories of nuns becoming pregnant and the good times couldn’t be ignored by the Vatican forever. In 1871 after 300 years of apparent naughtiness, Pope Pius IX sent Sister Cadena, a strict Dominican nun, to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of either remaining as nuns or leaving.

Posted by Hawkson 17:14 Archived in Peru

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Can you imagine 300 years of naughtiness??? It boggles the mind. I wonder if the "nuns" were sent there to protect them or to protect others from them? Curious. There must be a novel or two written about the nuns and how they got there.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Would be an even more interesting novel written about the nuns lives after they got there. Sounds like it wasn't all prayer and devotion. Wonder if a few of the freed slaves and servants kind of missed the good old days. Doubt if Sister Cadena was loved by one and all.

by R and B

Aahh, a monastery right up my alley, what fun. wish I would have known about Santa Catalina while I was being schooled by nun's ( who in the end expelled me-for no good reason-they had no idea of fun..)

by gottfried

That would be a good story to write about more. You have the pictures for it already...my goodness you are finding amazing place we have never heard about before

by Jean McLaren

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