This sounds like it wouldn’t be fun at all, but if you find yourself in Arequipa, Peru, go check out the monastery.
At its height, Santa Catalina was a city within a city. A couple hundred cloistered nuns literally walled themselves off from the outside world, fashioning a tiny town of streets and little homes within it (monastic life was much less communal in those days). And, as many of these women were wealthy, they usually had a servant or two in there to help out — so about 400 to 450 women lived right in the center of the city, but completely removed from it.
Now most of it is open for visitors, but a portion is still set aside for the 17 or so nuns who live there yet. Its population has obviously diminished in recent decades, but back when Santa Catalina was thriving, women’s options in life were somewhat more circumscribed. They could 1) marry 2) be a nun or 3) do nothing and be a drain on their family. Many women went with option No. 2.
A “street” in the city - each door was a nun’s house, which was usually just a room or two.
That is not a real nun — just a mannequin that demonstrates how these nuns prayed. I think they also want to creep people out. If so: success.
Speaking of creepy: When a nun died, they’d lay her out here for a few days. Those paintings on the wall are of the dead nuns — a painter would come in to take a snapshot of them, so to speak, as they lay in their coffins. In the pictures, their eyes are closed and their faces rigid. (We weren’t allowed to get closer, and I foolishly failed to get a close-up of those pics).
They look like this, except … you know, not alive.
One of the kitchens, which was shared between two nuns.
A typical room. The beds are all in arched alcoves, which is safer in case of earthquakes.
A walkway in the novices’ quarter
These murals are from the… 18th century, if I recall? They’re right outside, but are marvelously well-preserved. Our guide told us the dry mountain air really keeps this stuff fresh forever.
A little alleyway in nuntown.
Widowed and single, wealthy and less-wealthy, a lot of women chose this life, which involved praying pretty much constantly. Some of them raised orphans in here, too, and you’ve got to wonder what life would have been like here for a kid. Servants were allowed to come and go, and occasionally a doctor would have been allowed in to treat a patient, but otherwise, the doors stayed closed.
It’s a pretty nice little town, really. Simple, but nice. A girl could do a lot worse.