Santa Clara Monastery

Real Monasterio de Sta. Clara: The Royal monastery of Santa Clara was established in Manila by Sor Geronima de la Asunción, a relative of the Spanish monarchs. She belonged to a contemplative female branch of the Franciscan order, popularly called “Poor Clares,” after their foundress St. Clare, a follower of St. Francis of Assisi.

The famous Spanish court painter, Diego de Velazquez, painted a portrait of Sor Geronima before she left for Mexico. Sor Geronima the daughter of Don Pedro Garcia Yañez, a jurist from Toledo, left for the Americas with three companions and two other professed nuns. She was joined by two more nuns from Seville and two more from Mexico before they company set sail from Acapulco on 1 April 1621, in the same ship taken by Bp. Juan de Renteria, appointed to Nueva Segovia, and twenty-four Franciscan friars.

They arrived at the port of Bolinao, Pangasinan on 24 July and travelling by land arrived in Manila on 5 August. For the time being they stayed in the house owned by Doña Ana de Vera in Sampaloc. Then they moved to the Franciscan convent in the same village until 31 October when took possession of two houses in Intramuros owned by de Vera and Maestre de Campo Pedro Chaves. The following year a church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was built beside the residence. Fray Diego de la Torre, who had worked as a master builder at the Escorial, supervised its construction. The nuns remained in the convent until 1658 when an earthquake forced them to live in a private house in the walled city until such time as they were able to raise a new convent and church.

The monastery housed a contemplative branch of Franciscan nuns. Following their rules of seclusion, the nuns built a 30-foot windowless wall that cut them from the city. The nuns did not leave their convent until 1762 during the British occupation when they left Manila to reside in the Franciscan convent in Santa Ana. There they remained for two years.

The monastery received Royal protection through a decree of 21 June 1662; hence, the adjective “real” (royal) was appended to the monastery’s name.

The nunnery was dubbed “living death” because women who entered were never seen again by outsiders. The only sign of their existence were the chants that would waft through the monastery chapel during Mass and common prayers. The monastery figures in the José Rizal’ novel, Noli me Tangere; it was here that the hapless and tragic Maria Clara found refuge and met her end.

The Monasterio de Santa Clara transferred to Aurora Blvd. on Quezon City, on a site overlooking the Marikina Valley. The construction of the highway C-5 forced the nuns to transfer their convent to a new site near their old monastery. The remains of Sor Geronima are interred in the monastery.
Santa Clara remains a favorite pilgrimage site especially on Sundays and holydays and on the feasts of Sts. Clare and Francis of Assisi. Eggs are a customary offering given to the nuns to pray for fair weather.

Heritage Features: Located at the northeastern quadrant of the city, between Plaza Militar and the city walls, the nuns enjoyed seclusion and privacy. Architecturally the monastery compound was simple and undistinguished, in keeping with the austerity of the Poor Clares.

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