I know what you’re thinking, another convent, another bible bashing building, preaching to the end of your tether that you should follow the light. How wrong could I be. Convinced that my time here would be like all other convents I have visited across Europe, I bit my tongue back not to look bored or sound furious at the ridiculousness of it all only to be shocked and surprised by my misjudgement.
St Catalina Convent in Arequipa really is a must in your travel time in Peru let me tell you. Firstly it is architecturally beautiful. Built around a church of the same name, the convent feels almost like a city within walls that has been built for a small community. It boasts the best of Colonial influence, from bright colours, high ceilings and sufficient space for families to live comfortably. The facilities are clean and their irrigation system genius. They bring water from the mountains through a series of canals to the convent and re-direct it back to the river, guaranteeing that their crops flourished and homes had plenty of water for consumption.
The convent has divided its facilities so that young members, refugees and sisters all have separate quarters. This in itself is an innovative concept as most are of shared facilities. However, this is not the only thing it is renowned for. St Catalina offered women of the 16th century and onwards an opportunity to truly control their finances, household and lives.
Women of wealth would move here and bring their great dowaries which would fund their home and life. They could then care for a family under their household or their slaves, giving them prosperous lives. They were allowed to build businesses which helped them control their finances without the opinion or meddling of any man. Finally the convent educated woman to be autonomous, and those who were raised here had the chance to leave but would be welcome open heartedly should they choose to return. The convent was seen as a major economical advantage to the city and contributed greatly to the growth of Arequipa.
The convent really was a haven and community which gave many women the chance for independence.