Church and Monastery of Santa Catalina

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::: CuscoWeb.com Cusco Info Church and Monastery of Santa Catalina
In Inkan times, one of the most important buildings over the great Qosqo's Main Plaza was the Aqllawasi (House of Chosen Women, or Virgins of the Sun). It was something like an Andean Monastery for noble women chosen among the prettiest and most virtuous in the whole Quechua territory. They were devoted to the cult of the Sun God; to the preparation of its ceremonies; to the weaving of clothing for the Inka and for different religious purposes.
To the preparation of the "Sanqhu" (a ceremonial bread equivalent of the host in Christianity); and to the manufacture of "Aqha" or sacred "chicha" (maize beer). Besides, those women who kept perpetual virginity, also had to keep inside their monastery for the whole year the Sacred Fire produced in the Inti Raymi. Those maidens living in the Aqllawasi had two categories: the daughters of noble blood Quechuas, considered as Sun's wives who had higher status and those daughters of privileged nobles that were considered as the Inka's wives. All of them were instructed by and under the care of the "Mamakuna" who were a sort of priestesses among the most skillful veterans in domestic and ceremonial affairs. No man could see them, not even the same Inka; just the "Qoya" (the Inka's main wife) and her daughters could visit them. According to the law, if any male had personal intimate relations with a chosen woman, himself, his family, his neighbors and his whole people were eliminated as well as their cattle, and his town was covered with salt for having nursed such a bad son. Garcilaso indicates about this rule that " This was the law, but it was never carried out, because it was never known that someone transgressed it... The Inkas never promulgated laws for frightening their vassals neither for transgressing them, but for executing and performing them with those who dared breaking them.". The Aqllawasi building covered a whole enormous block and was located where now is the Church and Monastery of Dominican Nuns of Santa Catalina and many other private buildings close to it.

It was Lucia Isabel Rivera de Padilla who in 1601 founded in Qosqo City the Santa Catalina Monastery after having had the bitter experience of having seen the monastery she had founded in 1559 in Arequipa destroyed by eruption of the Waynaputina Volcano. Subsequently, she built the ancient church which as well as the monastery were destroyed by an earthquake in 1650. The present-time structure was begun one year later being finished after 4 short years. The altarpieces that are found in the church and monastery were carved by diverse local craftsmen toward the second half of the XVII century. Besides, there are very important pictorial works of Cusquenian School made by anonymous artists. Inside the church there is a collection made by Juan Espinoza de los Monteros representing Saint Catherine of Siena's life and the Remedies Virgin in the Monastery Foundation. Lorenzo Sanchez Mefecit, another Cusquenian painter made the huge canvas of the Virgin's Assumption and another representing Saint Catherine of Siena's Glorification. The church has also a gilded cedar wood Major Altar with blended styles, on the high central part is the statue of the "The Holy Heart of Jesus Christ" and lower Saint Catherine and Saint Dominic Guzman. Besides, there is a pulpit carved in cedar wood and other four gilded minor altarpieces.

Nowadays, over here is a beautiful museum of colonial art which possibly is the most complete in the city. By its entrance, in the first room there are different canvases representing the "Lord of Earthquakes", and some other different paintings mostly anonymous. Further ahead in the passage, is another collection representing the life and miracles of Saint Rose of Lima. The lower choir shows diverse canvases representing Saint Dominic Guzman's life painted by Juan Espinoza de los Monteros and a collection of nine rich chasubles embroidered with precious metal threads. The Scriptures Room is interesting and contains murals all around it representing the religious and virtuous life on the upper side, and lower the courtier life; all painted by Tadeo Escalante. On the second floor, there is an elaborate Nativity that becomes a trunk when folded. The upper choir shows a rustic organ made in Qosqo and paintings representing Saint Catherine's life.

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