The fate of the 2nd daughter

Every day we passed an unusual building on our walk in Arequipa, Peru. The plain white and very high stone walled building took up an entire block near the Plaza de Armas. No windows in sight. We found out that it is the Santa Catalina Convent, built in 1579, for women who were cloistered from the world and spent their days in prayer.

You might wonder: why visit a convent? The building is historically significant, built over 500 years ago in the Mudejar style, and gave us a glimpse into life for some women in the colonial time of Peru.

You might wonder: why visit a convent? The building is historically significant, built over 500 years ago in the Mudejar style, and gave us a glimpse into life for some women in the colonial time of Peru.

The Convent suffered extensive damage in earthquakes in the 1960’s, and so, to raise money for renovations and repairs, the remaining twenty nuns moved into a private area of the convent and the remainder was open to the paying public.

The Convent suffered extensive damage in earthquakes in the 1960’s, and so, to raise money for renovations and repairs, the remaining twenty nuns moved into a private area of the convent and the remainder was open to the paying public.

In 17th century Arequipa, 2nd sons became priests and 2nd daughters became nuns. Girls entered the Santa Catalina Convent when they turned 12 years old. Each girl roomed by herself during the 4-year novitiate-training period. These young novices left their room at 7am to go to the chapel and again at noon for 15-20 minute in the yard. The rest of the day was spent alone in their room – praying, meditating, and sewing.

Their parents paid a stipend each year and, at the end of the novitiate, paid a dowry to the convent – equivalent to $150,000 US in today’s dollars.

The convent housed 7 novices and 180 nuns, with facilities to fully support them as they would never leave the convent.

The convent housed 7 novices and 180 nuns, with facilities to fully support them as they would never leave the convent.

The nuns slept in rooms that might be shared with up to 3 others, depending on how much dowry their families had paid. Each small apartment came with 4 servants.

The nuns slept in rooms that might be shared with up to 3 others, depending on how much dowry their families had paid. Each small apartment came with 4 servants.

The laundry area had large clay vessels with drains in the bottom lined up along a water channel.

The laundry area had large clay vessels with drains in the bottom lined up along a water channel.

The doors and window shutters are all carved wood. The walls have been maintained in their original colors, vibrant blue and red-orange.

The doors and window shutters are all carved wood. The walls have been maintained in their original colors, vibrant blue and red-orange.

Frescoes decorated a number of the archways.

Frescoes decorated a number of the archways.

Potted plants were everywhere and the contrast of foliage and flowers against the bright walls was striking (and photogenic).

Potted plants were everywhere and the contrast of foliage and flowers against the bright walls was striking (and photogenic).

Life for the nuns radically changed in 1871 when the Pope sent Sister Josefa Cadena to Santa Catalina. Servants were dismissed, the convent’ wealth was sent to Europe, the nuns no longer were housed in private rooms but in a large dormitory style room, and no longer were large dowries required.

Since Santa Catalina has been continually occupied and maintained, the tour allowed us to imagine just what life might have been like 500 years ago for those privileged women in colonial Peru.

 

August 2016

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Peru, South America - 2016 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The fate of the 2nd daughter

  1. leggypeggy says:

    It’s a magnificent convent.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    The colours of the building are quite beautiful, and thank you for the fascinating insight into the life of a nun – not necessarily what I’d imagined, but perhaps specific to this particular place? Very interesting!

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