Santa Catalina Monastery – Arequipa, Peru

In Arequipa, Peru is a fully functioning convent of Catholic nuns of the Dominican Second Order called the Santa Catalina Monastery. Nowadays, they only occupy a small portion of this huge monastery and the rest is open for the public to visit.

For much of its 400 year history, the convent was closed to the general populace, but following required restoration work in the 1970s following two earthquakes, it was opened to the public to raise funds. There was also a law requiring the installation of electricity and running water so making the convent pay for itself was a necessity.

At its peak, 150 nuns and twice as many staff (servants/slaves) lived and worked here and it was extended greatly through the 17th century. In the 1870s, Sister Josefa Cadena was sent to reform the monastery and she set free all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of choosing to stay if they wished as nuns or leaving. Today, apparently, only around 20 nuns remain in the convent.

Visiting is easy if you are in Arequipa, its only about two blocks from the Plaza de Armas, and its open 7 days a week, including some evenings. Inside its walls, it has the feel of a small city with cobbled pathways, alleys and courtyards.

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