If you have time to visit only one thing in Arequipa, let it be the Monasterio de Santa Catalina.
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina can be found a little north of the Plaza de Armas, in Arequipa. It was one of the nicest museums I visited in Peru.
Convent or Beguinage?
The setup of the convent reminded me more of the way beguinage works. Nuns normally take the vows of obedience to their order, celibacy and poverty. The nuns in this convent however bended the rules a bit. First: they could receive gifts. Technically, these gifts were for the community. But in reality, these gifts were for the use of the nun who’s family donated it. The nuns had staff working for them, they had individual kitchens, …
At the end of the nineteenth century however, Pope Pius IX ordered the nuns to live as could be expected from nuns, being in community (and not indivdually) and to share the wealth of the community with all. He also forced the nuns to accept girls from not so rich families to enter the convent.The nuns were first a part of the novices convent for three years. They had a cell (about the size of a NYC studio). After the training, they transferred to the second part of the convent, where the nuns had houses. They sometimes lived there by themselves (with slaves and servants) or they shared a house with one or two other nuns.
When I visited the convent, I used the services of one of the freelance guides inside the area. It turned out to be $20 very well spent. As a good tour guide (takes one to know one…) not only ready to share the stories, but also to discuss and be knowledgeable beyond the usual tour-conversation.