|A nun on her deathbed.|
Death portraits of nuns on display in the Santa Clara Church-Museum make one ask what these women were like. Many wear expressions that aren't tranquil or benevolent. A minority are smiling. Did they live lives of quiet, fulfilling prayer and contemplation, or bitter rivalries? Does a cloistered life mean peace of mind or repression of natural energies?
The exhibit's title: 'Opaque Bodies: Invisible delights of mystic eroticism' suggests that death should be the climax of these women's existences.
|A peaceful, happy death.|
|A satisfactory life?|
The convent's central mission was to protect the nuns, particularly those of 'clean blood' - daughters of Spanish Catholic families.
Once inside the Santa Clara, the girls and women could not even see their families again and left only after death.
Altho the nuns, called Las Clarisas, had very little contact with the outside world, the convent did play a surprising economic role - lending money with interest. The convent held the belongings of its credit clients, similar to the pawn shops which today line Ave. Decima just two blocks west.
The museum's exhibit points out the changes in society's attitude towards death. Today, many people, prompted by marketing, aspire to eternal youth - a contrast with Colombia's sometimes violent culture. In contrast, the nuns supposedly conceived of death as a culmination of their religious life - a matrimony with Christ.
For a person who had lived such a closed existence, the prospect of entering heaven and accompanying Jesus must have provided hope and inspiration. Perhaps that was why being permitted to paint the deceased nuns' portraits was a great honor. Yet, only one of the painters signed his work.
Nuns, and young women preparing to become nuns, are fairly common in Bogotá. Many (I hope most) do charitable work, and a few are social activists. But the cloistered life still exists.
The Santa Clara Convent was built in 1649 and in 1969 purchased by the government of Colombia. The church officialy made it 'unsacred', and today it's operated by the Ministry of Culture. If you like that heavy, often overwrought, religious art, it's worth a visit. Admission is 3,000 pesos, free on Sundays.
The Santa Clara's other works are elaborate and intense religious items:
|A Christ portrait with burning heart.|
|The Santa Clara's elaborate interior.|
|An agonized Christ sculpture.|
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours