Convents and Child sacrifices
Trip Start Sep 11, 2008
70Trip End Jan 03, 2009
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The Santa Catalina convent takes up about 5 acres in the midst of the historic centre of town, and is surrounded by a huge wall, made of the sillar stone, the local white volcanic stone of which a lot of Arequipaīs buildings are constructed. (Arequipa has been called the White City because of this, but it seems more like a dirty grey/brown after years of exposure to traffic fumes etc)
But I digress - back to the convent! It is a very interesting place.
The convent was opened to the public in 1970, but there is still a section which is not accessible, where some nuns still live completely secluded.
Santa Catalina is a really beautiful place to get lost in. It feels like a little town within the city, with narrow streets crisscrossing each other, and pretty courtyards surrounded by arched cloisters. Most of the buildings are made of sillar, and the outside walls have been painted in rich colours. There are terracotta pots of geraniums to brighten the place even more, and all sorts of little nooks and crannies, with stairs that seem to go nowhere, and pretty views through little windows. There are photos opportunities around every corner, and I spent a few hours wandering around, wishing I had my wide angle lens!
I also visited the Museo Santury, which is a small museum specifically for exhibiting the body of "Juanita", a young Inca girl who was sacrificed on the summit of Mt Ampato (6310m above sea level) over 500 years ago
The body was discovered during an expedition in 1995. A few years earlier, a local climber was guiding a group on the mountain, when he found pieces of wood and other objects suggesting a burial site. He contacted an American archaeologist who joined him on an expedition to the summit. A nearby volcano had recently erupted, covering Ampato with hot ash, which melted the ice, and exposed the site even further. The body of the girl had rolled part-way down the mountain when the tomb collapsed, but she was still almost perfectly preserved, frozen in the ice and snow.
The girl was no more than 12 years old when she died, and was killed by a sharp blow to the side of her head. She was buried in beautiful woven clothing, along with many symbolic objects as offerings to the mountain gods.
Since then, the bodies of several other children sacrificed in a similar manner, have been found buried on Ampato and other mountains surrounding Arequipa.
In the museum, you first watch a video about the expedition, and are then guided through the exhibits, which include some of the objects found with the bodies - small ceramics, tiny woven bags containing food and herbs, dolls, metallic figurines, feather headresses and beautiful tunics. They also have sandals made from grasses which were worn by the Inca on what must have been an incredibly arduous climb to the summit. At the end, you see the body of Juanita herself, encased in a specially designed freezer. She is tiny, and very well preserved, still wearing the colthing she was buried in.
I donīt know if itīs the way the whole thing is presented, or whether itīs just the very nature of the exhibits, but I have never been so moved by anything in a museum in my life.
How did this young girl feel, trudging up that mountain in the freezing cold, at such high altitude, a mountain that to her, was worshipped as a god, knowing that she was going to die? What was going through her mind?
The museum implies that she went willingly, having been separated from her family and raised for this purpose her whole life, and although frightened, would have been proud that her sacrifice would appease her god and help her people. But weīll never really know.
Itīs an incredible insight into Inca culture that raises a lot more questions than it answers, and all I could think as I left the muesum was "Wow".