Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa
The Santa Catalina monastery is one of the most famous religious tourist attractions in the city of Arequipa. It is located just 600 meters from the city’s Main Square, in the heart of the Historic Center. The monastery was created during the colony. The founding date dates from 1579. After more than 400 years of history, its cloisters continue to house women. It also became an attraction in the city. During the tour you can appreciate its beautiful architecture as well as the many treasures of gold, silver and precious stones that are kept there.
All about the Santa Catalina Monastery
The Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena was founded in the city of Arequipa on September 10, 1579. For its construction, ashlar, a volcanic stone from the Misti volcano and the Chachani volcano, was used. Since its beginnings in colonial times, the monastery enclosed its residents with walls that reach 4 meters in height. For many years the monastic life and the treasures of the place were hidden from the Arequipa population. Finally, the monastery opened its doors to the public in the 20th century.
The architecture of the enclosure is of the colonial type with cloisters, towers, doorways, domes, alleys, patios, gardens and more. Its dependencies are: the front of the monastery, the courtyard of silence, the cloister of the orange trees, the main cloister, the kitchen, the laundry, the bell tower, the church and more. Inside there are rooms where some of the canvases from the ‘Cusco school of painting’ (school dating from colonial times) are exhibited as well as other relics of cedar, silver, gold and more.
The Santa Catalina Convent is located just 600 meters from Arequipa’s Main Square. It is located on ‘Santa Catalina 301’ street, in the historic center of the city.
In the city of Arequipa, several monasteries and convents were founded in order to catechize the Creole, mestizo and Indian settlers of this Andean region. In addition to the convent of Santa Catalina, the convent of La Merced, the convent of La Recoleta, the monastery of Santa Teresa, the convent of San Francisco, the convent of Santo Domingo and the convent of the Compañía de Jesús stand out. Most of them are located in the Historic Center of the city.
How to get?
To get to the Santa Catalina convent from Arequipa’s Main Square, you just have to follow Santa Catalina street for about 2 blocks. From any other part of the city you can get there with a taxi service.
During his visit to the city of Arequipa, Viceroy Francisco Toledo approved the order to found the ‘Private monastery of nuns of the order of Santa Catalina de Siena’ on September 10, 1579 on 4 lots in the center of the city. It is worth mentioning the financial help of Doña María de Guzmán (widow of Diego Hernández de Mendoza) who donated all her goods before being confined in the monastery. Later the lady was named as ‘First Settler and Prioress of the Santa Catalina Convent’.
In its early years, the monastery received Creoles, mestizos and daughters of curacas of good economic power. Later, poor girls were also allowed in. The monastery was damaged after the 1582 earthquake. In the 18th century, the cloister housed approximately 300 women. Then, after two centuries, little was known about its enclosures until in 1970 (under the administration of a private company), the convent opened its doors to the public. Today it continues to house nuns on the north side of the monastery. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Arequipa.
The Santa Catalina convent has a typical colonial architecture. For its construction, ashlar was used, a volcanic stone from the Chachani (white ashlar) and Misti (pink ashlar) volcanoes. The whole set presents different aspects that give it solidity and beauty. Its façades have flying buttress arches and arches on pillars.
Inside, the building consists of several facades, cloisters, cells and patios; some of which support vaults and domes that reinforce the solidity of the enclosure. Throughout the place there are decorative elements of European and indigenous elements of great aesthetic value. In its more than 400 years of existence, the interior architecture of the monastery has been changing and increasing the number of cloisters.
The monastery of Santa Catalina has a picture gallery destined to house some of the most representative paintings made, mostly, by artists from the 16th and 18th century ‘Cusco school’, which used European and indigenous elements to represent religious scenes. The collection of canvases includes more than 400 pieces restored and displayed in a cross-shaped area surmounted by a high vault. Many of the paintings depict the life of Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380).
Sor Ana de los Ángeles
Under the choir of the temple in the Santa Catalina monastery is buried the body of Sister Ana de los Ángeles, who belonged to an aristocratic family and lived in the monastery since she was 3 years old. She is credited with some miracles such as predicting illnesses, cures, and even death. History points to up to 68 predictions, all of them correct. In the last years of his life he suffered from blindness, which he took with courageous stoicism. For this reason, it is considered a model of dedication and trust in God. It is said that on the day of his death, which occurred on January 10, 1686, his body kept a good smell despite the time that had elapsed. She is one of the most famous nuns of the Santa Catalina convent.
Rooms and dependencies of the monastery
The portal – The entrance to the convent stands out for a relief that represents Santa Catalina de Siena. It is made of ashlar and has a sobriety that contrasts with the other interior rooms of the convent.
The courtyard of silence – A courtyard adorned with various arches and plants, which served as a space where the nuns met to pray the rosary as well as to read passages from the Bible. Its name is due to the fact that silence was requested during the permanence of this enclosure.
The cloister of the orange trees – One of the patios of the monastery, which stands out for the presence of orange trees. In the middle of the patio, three wooden crosses stand out. There, every Good Friday, the nuns represent the ‘Passion of Christ’. Its construction dates from 1738.
The main cloister – The largest cloister of the monastery, which was built between 1715 and 1723. On its walls you can see paintings that indoctrinate the nuns. In this space there are up to 32 paintings that deal with the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. There are also five confessionals.
The kitchen – This high-domed space with sooty walls served as a kitchen. The nuns cooked in a traditional way with firewood or charcoal. The utensils that are exhibited there date from the colonial era and the beginning of the 18th and 14th centuries. It is believed that at one time it also served as a chapel.
The laundry – This old space (dating from 1770) served as a laundry for the nuns who lived in the monastery. There are 20 jars exhibited, which were supplied by water channels that ended in the Chili River. The utensils shown were used during the colony.
The bell tower – The only tower of the monastery was built in approximately 1748. At the top there is a huge bell tower that surrounds the streets on its four sides (four bells). Due to the constant earthquakes in Arequipa it had to be renovated.
The church – The church of the Santa Catalina monastery has a half-orange dome as well as a large nave. Its interior consists of treasures made of cedar, silver, gold, all with religious motifs. Highlights the main altar embossed in silver, the choir, the European organ, among others.
The cost of entering the monastery is 40 Peruvian soles per person. Adults over 60 years old pay 20 soles. Peruvian university students pay 12 soles. School-age children pay 6 Peruvian soles.
The monastery welcomes visitors from Monday to Saturday from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. It is only closed on Sundays as well as Good Friday, December 25 and January 1.
In 1985, the monastery of Santa Catalina received the visit of the then Pope John Paul II who beatified Sister Ana de los Ángeles Monteagudo. The Catholic Church approved one of his miracles as true: the cure of cervical cancer to Doña María Vera de Jarrín, who lived 30 years after the miracle.
The Santa Catalina convent has cultural extension rooms for the exhibition of temporary exhibitions and other cultural activities. The visit to the cultural exhibitions is free for all the public. They are one of the best cultural options in the city.
The cost of the entrance to the monastery does not include the tour guide service. For this you can get one of the professional guides that the place has. The site offers guides in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and even Japanese.
The monastery conditioned its cloisters and spaces to offer different services such as: cafeteria, souvenir shops, bathrooms and more. In addition, the convent rents its rooms for different events such as baptisms, weddings or anniversaries.