They were built on the old Acllahuasi or “The house of the chosen girls” (the “acllas”, women dedicated to special work for the Inca). Its structure shows an architecture style of the last stages of the Renacentist period.The arches in roman style were a classic feature of that period. We can still admire the remains of the original construction inside the building.
Lucia Isabel Rivera de Padilla founded the monastery of Santa Catalina in the city of Cusco in 1601. She has previously had a hard experience when the monastery she founded in Arequipa in 1559 was destroyed by the eruption of Waynaputina volcano. After that, she built the old church that along with the monastery were also destroyed because of the earthquake in 1650. The structure was started one year later and was finished after four short years. The “retablos” found in the church and the monastery were carved by the diverse local artisans in the middle of the XVII century. There are very important pictorial paintings of the Academy of Cusco performed by anonymous artists. Inside the church, there is a collection of Juan Espinoza de Monteros with paintings of Santa Catalina and the “Virgen de los remedios” (Virgin of the Remedies) in the Monastery foundation.
Lorenzo Sanchez Mefecit, another artist of Cusco, painted a big picture of the “Virgen de la Asuncion” (Virgin of the Elevation) and others of “Santa Catalina”. The church has also an altar of gold cedar with mixed styles, and in the high central part we find the statute of the “Sagrado Corazón de Jesus” (Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ), Santa Catalina and Santo Domingo de Guzman. There is also a pulpit carved in cedar and other golden “retablos”. Nowadays, this is a nice museum of colonial art and it is probably the most complete of the city. In the first room, there are different canvas representing the “Señor de los terremotos” (Lord of the Earthquakes), and some other different anonymous paintings. There is also a collection of paintings about the life and miracles of Santa Rosa de Lima, some others about the life of Santo Domingo de Guzman painted by Juan Espinoza de Monteros and a collection of nine chasubles richly embroidered with needles of precious metal.
The Monastery of Santa Catalina dates from its first foundation in 1599 in Arequipa. They established in Arequipa in some houses of Lucia de Padilla, wife of the mayor Jeronimo Pacheco and her daughter Isabel Rivera de Padilla. In 1600, after the earthquake and the eruption of the Omate volcano that destroyed the city, they decided to move to Cusco. At that time, the bishop Antonio de Raya offered them a privilege place in some lands that had belonged to the acllahuasi or the house of the Sun virgins.
Twenty four nuns travelled from Arequipa in 1601 and established there. Its first building was finished in 1643 and in the same year, Martín de Torres finished the most joint retablo. But in the earthquake of 1650, the temple collapsed so they had to rebuild it completely, they even changed the display of its base. Many masons and native stonecutters participated in this work such as Mariano y Melchor Huaman. The temple and the internal decoration were finished in 1669 including the “retablos” and the paintings.
Its strict exterior has, as other Monastic churches, two identical renacentist facades and a bell gable as a sort of bell tower. All of this is in contrast to the rich inner decoration, distributed in its unique long nave of pearl-colored floor.
The visual history of Santa Catalina
Along its lateral walls, there is a wonderful series of canvas about the life of Santa Catalina de Siena, work of the half breed painter Juan Espinosa de los Monteros in 1669. Each of the scenes is surrounded by flowers, style that was then copied by some other painters of Cusco. At that time, we also find important canvas signed by Lorenzo Snachez de Medina representing the “Virgen del Rosario” (Virgin of the Rosary) with Dominic saints including Santa Rosa de Lima who was canonized in that time.
Most of the retablos are golden and are part of the best baroque of Cusco. The authors, Pedro de Oquendo and Pedro Galeano, followed the style of Martin de Torres. Its Corinthian columns have the typical decoration of fish scales or diamond extremities in the entire shaft. Among the lateral chapels, the altar of the Sacred Family and the “Virgen de los Remedios” (name of the temple) outstand due to their quality. The magnificent altar joint by Pedro Galeano in 1660 is a piece of work of transition, as it includes Salomonic columns in its second body. Galeano may have been the designer of the pulpit that is in perfect harmony with the retablos.
The choral grille
One of the most distinctive elements of the group is the monumental choral fence that is covering the whole upper part of the church, including the high and low choirs of the nuns. The turned banisters as well as the high tribune and the coronation, decorated with canvas of the Virgin with San Joaquin and Santa Ana, represent a real masterpiece of the joining art.
An art Museum
The interior of the monastery is spacious and has a diversity of rooms that were successively added making a peculiar display, though a little disordered, of the Peruvian monasteries. One important part of the old cloister has been open to the public and turned into a museum. Its room “De Profundis” shows murals recently restored and all the rooms exhibit part of the large Monastic pinacotheca in which the diverse painting of the “Señor de los Temblores ” (Lord of the Tremors) are outstanding due to the favourite devotion of the nuns after the tragic earthquake in 1650.