Close to the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery. Built in 1579, it served as a cloister for Dominican nuns between the 16th and 18th century, and it still houses a small religious community. Like much else in Arequipa, the buildings are made of volcanic sillar stone, which is porous and prone to cracking, and it was badly damaged in the earthquake in 2001. It was founded by Doña Maria de Guzman, a rich young widow who was the first prioress. All women admitted to the convent were expected to bring a dowry of $150,000USD in current-day money, and a list of 25 items including a statue, a painting, a lamp etc. No wonder it became enormously rich, until the Vatican sent someone out to clean it up (and send all the riches back to Spain).
(Familiar accent narrating the video!)
One of their most famous nuns is Sister Ana de Los Angeles, who entered the convent as a three year old in 1607 for her education. Her parents took her out at the age of ten or eleven in order to marry, but after receiving a vision of Saint Catherine of Siena, she wanted to return to the convent as a nun. (I’m sure that the prospect of being married off as a 10 year old had nothing to do with it). Her mother was furious, and refused to pay the dowry, so her brother paid it instead. She spent the rest of her life there, becoming noted for her ability to predict whether a sick patient would live or die. When she died in 1686 they didn’t need to embalm her because of the sweet perfume her body gave off, and after being exhumed 10 months after burial, she was still fresh. The sisters petitioned to have her proclaimed a saint, but 334 years later they’re still waiting (and she’s probably not quite so fresh).
They have a beautiful website here, in both Spanish and English.
A 15 minute walk from the historic centre is the Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa. In Chile, I was hunting down houses belonging to Pablo Neruda, in Cartagena I enjoyed a Gabriel Garcia Marquez tour, so while in Arequipa, why not check out this museum, located in the birthplace of Peru’s Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa. Only 48 people per day are allowed to visit. I have read only one of his books, The Feast of the Goat, and his most well-known book is probably Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. He ran for the Presidency in 1990 but was defeated by Alberto Fujimori. Hmm…his politics are probably more right-wing than I’m comfortable with, but you can’t argue with his Nobel Prize, awarded 2010 for a huge body of work. He was a former President of PEN International, and he was recently attacked by China for a column he wrote about coronavirus. Apparently they had a crisis meeting late last year to discuss the poor state of the museum, which has a heavy reliance on holograms but….if I were there, I’d go anyway. Museums for writers should be encouraged, I reckon.