In the bustling city of Arequipa there is an oasis of calm and spirituality which I would recommend anybody who is in the area must visit. The Monasterio de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Monastery) is a huge monastic complex, almost a city within a city, with numerous cloisters, corridors, rooms and alleys to explore. Built in a mudejar style around 1580, it was created to house the daughters from wealthy Spanish families, and lead them on a monastic path and a life of church servitude.
Today in a small corner of the massive 20,000 square metre citadel there are around 20 nuns who still live in the compound, adhering to strict measures and rules. The rest of the compound is open to tourists, and for two nights a week it is open later in the evening for people to experience the place at night.
We ourselves went in the late afternoon, when dusk was approaching. It was a beautiful time of day to be here – not as many people (a lot of the ‘tours’ stop in during the day) and the fading sunset light created some great shadows and plays of light. For those that are into photography this would be a great time to come and capture the beauty of these buildings.
After paying the entry fee of 40 soles you enter past an arch that says “silencio”. Luckily for my chatty self this isn’t enforced today, but back in the days of the monastery once a girl entered this arch she was to remain silent for her 4 year stay! After her 4 year she could choose to stay in service to the church forever, or leave (most “had” to stay because leaving would of bought shame on the family name). At most times there were up to 450 nuns living here. They had there own chores and tasks, kept to a strict timetables of learning and prayer, and spent the rest of their time in their small chambers.
Today we get to see all this, as it was back through the centuries. Many of the bedrooms or chambers as such are preserved, with the antique furniture and the numerous images of Christ still on the walls. You can explore the numerous courtyards, the kitchens where cooking was done, and even a mortuary room where the nuns would mourn a fellow sister who passed away. It was very interesting to get a glimpse into the monastic life of times past, especially the era of strict control and discipline.
We spent a good couple of hours exploring at our own pace. There are 1 hour guided tours that run regularly, but we were happy that we got to spend time exploring at our own pace, taking photos in a slow manner, trying to capture certain angles and light. We took many many photos here, it couldn’t be helped! If you are in Arequipa I would definitely recommend you visit here. It is definitely a highlight of our time here.