Monasterio de Santa Catalina

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 bent 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 whose family donated it. The nuns had staff working for them, they had individual kitchens, …

Monasterio de Santa Catalina - Arequipa - Peru
Monasterio de Santa Catalina – Arequipa – Peru

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 individually) 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.

Inside the convent, galleries with paintings where used to give instruction to the nuns.
Inside the convent, galleries with paintings were used to give instruction to the nuns.


The nuns were first a part of the novices convent for three years. They had a cell (about the size of an 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.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina
A kitchen in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina – the stone in the middle is a water filter.

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.

The halls of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina
The halls of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina
A patio in the  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, now used for receptions and functions.
A patio in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, now used for receptions and functions.
The old dormitory of the convent is now a hall where the art is displayed.
The old dormitory of the convent is now a hall where the art is displayed.
The convent, Arequipa and the mountains.
The convent, Arequipa and the mountains.
A monstrance
A monstrance

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