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A monastery surrounded by three volcanoes



Daniel Esparza - published on 10/09/22

The Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Perú, is in the crossroads of the Misti, Pichu Pichu, and Chachani volcanoes.

The Peruvian city of Arequipa is also known as the “White City” because of its white cobbled sidewalks. Since colonial times, an amalgam called sillar or ashlar, made mainly from volcanic rock, has been used as pavement. This should not come as a surprise: Arequipa is located at the foot of three volcanoes (Misti, Pichu Pichu, and Chachana) and proudly uses a phrase by the famed local poet Jorge Polar — “One is not born at the foot of a volcano by mere chance” — as a motto.

Right at the center of this majestic colonial city, one finds one of the biggest monasteries of the continent: the Dominican Monastery of Santa Catalina in Arequipa, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. Built during colonial times (when Perú was a vice-kingdom, still part of the Spanish Empire) in 1579, most of its walls are covered with the same white volcanic stone, and then painted in bright colors.

Built in 1579, most of its walls are covered with the same white volcanic stone, and then painted in bright colors.

The consecration of Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa took place in October 1580, with a high Mass. The monastery received novices from some of the most distinguished families of the city, both European and Native – records show some of the daughters of local curacas (Indigenous chieftains) entered the convent as nuns as well. It also served as an asylum, and as a school for noble children. The monastery is still nowadays home to invaluable colonial paintings, sculptures, and liturgical objects.

The old wing of the monastery (which is as big as a small town) was opened to the public in 1970, when a new facility was built for the approximately 20 nuns who still live there.

Sor Ana de Los Ángeles

Ana Monteagudo Ponce De León was sent to the monastery at the age of three, to receive moral and religious education. When she turned 10, she was supposed to leave the monastery and go back home to receive a different kind of education, so she could eventually be a suitable bride for a local nobleman. It was then when she had a vision of St. Catherine of Siena.

Ana returned to the convent, contrary to her parent’s desire, and became a novice. She ended up becoming the mother superior of the convent and was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1985.

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