The monastery of Santa Clara
In front of Hotel Villa Antigua in Sucre, in the street Calvo corner with street Avaroa, you can find the convent, church and museum of Santa Clara. The nuns of the Monastery of Santa Clara are part of the living heritage of the city of Sucre, where their convent exists since almost 400 years ago. The newspaper of Sucre, Correo del Sur, published in its Sunday weekly ECOS of June 18th, 2017 a nice reportage about the history and current situation of the nuns who inhabit the monastery. Here parts of the article, complemented with some findings of the book about the history of the building of Hotel Villa Antigua.
The Order of the Poor Clares (Santa Clara) has a little more than 800 years since its creation in Assisi, Italy, in 1212. Its founder, Clara, was encouraged by the charism of St. Francis, whom she admired as a poor itinerant. She began with a group of young people who wanted to be like the poor, to live off the work of their hands or beg for alms, to fill their needs. As sisters that help themselves among each other, they inhabited the famous church of San Damiano, the same one that Francis restored from the ruins years before in Assisi.
Poor Clares in Sucre
In Sucre, the convent was founded in 1636 by Maria Zeballos y Vera, a lady without children, widow of Jerónimo Maldonado Buendía. She decided to follow the Lord and handed over her fortune and the labor of her hands to build the present convent. Before it was a convent, it was first a retreat house that welcomed young women in a similar situation as herself, to offer mutual help and dedicate themselves to the Lord.
Zeballos, faced with the enormous spiritual need of the young women, decided to form a congregation. With the help of the Franciscans settled in Sucre, she asked the King of Spain, Philip IV, authorisation to establish the Order of St. Clare. When it was conferred in 1636, she asked the Poor Clares of Cuzco for support for the formation of the contemplative life and the “Franciscan Clarian” spirituality. Three sisters arrived bringing an image of Santa Clara, to take the roles of Abbess, Vicariate and Teacher to guide the then 13 young ladies who took the habit. They came to be around 300.
Maria Zeballos, descendant of Spanish and Chuquisaqueña of birth, built the convent in her lands, covering at some point the complete city block (more than 1 ha). She assumed the position of abbess at the death of the first one. The church was built only at the end of the 17th century.
At the moment, there are 20 clarisas who live in Santa Clara, its abbess is the sister Simona Ríos. Besides herself, four collaborators called “discretas” and the other nuns are part of the convent. The majority is young, the youngest is 20 and the oldest of all 97 years old.
The Poor Clares maintain themselves with the sales of their products and receive no emolument from the church or the State. The main activity of the Sisters is the production of fine pastry that they sell in “La Casita Santa Clara”, a cozy cafeteria located in the same building, maintaining traditional recipes and innovating new ones, according to the demand. Among the variety are cookies of almonds, water, anise, chocolate, cinnamon or vanilla and cheese sticks. But also they have alfajores and cheese rolls, sweet bread, cuñapés, humintas in oven or pot and of course the empanadas and salteñas Santa Clara with the original recipe.
They also carry out manual work on embroidery, crochet or knitting. Their embroidered tablecloths are celebrated.
The museum of Santa Clara, located in front of Hotel Villa Antigua in the Calvo Street, is one of the most mysticals of Sucre.
In the high choir are the paintings of artists such as Bernardo Bitti, Gaspar Miguel de Berrio and Melchor Pérez de Holguín, sculptures in cedar wood, fine tablecloths with rhinestones embroidered by the Clarisas nuns, silver articles, armchairs, liturgical books, iconography of the contemplative life, besides baroque musical instruments and cases where they kept precious stones, among other wonders. The treasure of the museum is the organ of the XVII century that is restored and is played on special occasions.
Downstairs, is the crypt where the nuns were buried in past centuries, until 50 years ago. People can also visit the church and take a walk around the cloister of the nuns, which is now dressed in gala thanks to the baroque mestizo murals of 1707, recently restored with the support of the German Embassy.