Sometimes there is a place that just speaks to us, luring us from afar. And, though we are not religious people or museum people, the Santa Catalina Convent is one of those places that just kept tugging at me.
Even before we began our tour of Peru, I knew that this was a place I wanted to see. Needed to photograph. It turned out to be a bit off-kilter for our normal interests, and a slightly high on the price we like to pay for such a tourist-y attraction.
Luckily, mid-morning on a weekday isn’t a prime time to visit and we nearly had the place to ourselves. The Santa Catalina Convent is an odd, eerie and beautiful place. The ominent aura in the air even brought silence to our children. This tour was the quietest they have been for some time.
The nearly 350-year old Convent is mostly a tourist attraction today, but a fraction of the property is still home to a small society of approximately 20 present-day nuns. Santa Catalina is most known for its vibrantly colored walls and antique paintings but it also harbors an interesting history.
Apparently, this convent was created only to house the wealthiest women with a devotion to god. In the time of its creation, women who entered the Santa Catalina Covent were required to present a dowry of silver coins equivalent in value to $150,000 today.
The upper-class population is evident in the artifacts that remain. The antique collections include English China, silk rugs, and curtains. There were also known to be nearly twice as many slaves and servants in the convent than there were actual nuns.
In addition to the controversy of pretentious wealth are shocking tales of sacrilegious debauchery. Although unconfirmed, there are centuries old rumors of pregnancy and the catastrophic discovery of infant skeletons found buried within the convent walls.
Regardless of the rumors and history, the Mudéjar architecture is impressively intact. Like nothing, we have seen in Peru the style of the convent is a spectacular display of what can be described as Moorish- Arabic design. The Santa Catalina convent has survived numerous earthquakes over the years, with multiple re-construction and restoration project being implemented to save the complex.
For our children, the best way to explain the place was in relation to the Sound of Music. To understand the concept of religion is hard enough for them, and to comprehend the life of a nun is even more difficult. In their eyes, the macabre religious art is disturbing and a lifetime of solitude, it’s own kind of prison.
All of that aside, they seemed to relate to the beauty of the place. It is impossible not to be fascinated by the arched doorways in contrast with the stark, bare living quarters. The vibrant reds and blues of the courtyards were warm and inviting, and it was tempting to sit in the pretty gardens for hours.