Hermano Miguel 6-33
This group of adobe walls and large tiled roofs encompasses an entire city block in the historic center composed of Borrero, Presidente Cordova, Juan Jaramillo and Hermano Miguel streets. It was the first nuns’ convent in the city founded in 1599. It includes the convent, a church, and the Museum.
During the colonial period there were few options for women. They could marry, or become nuns, or remain single, which was not a comfortable option. This cloistered covent was founded in July 1599 at the request of the city’s residents, and with alms from the city residents. Doña Leonor Ordóñez, a widow,donated the family house to accomodate the convent, and the only condition was that her three daughters would have to be accepted into the cloister. The house already had its own small church.
This large house with more than four courtyards with large adobe and bahareque rooms was inhabited by about 150 people in 1790. They were nuns, novices and servants. Later there were discipline problems among the nuns and servants, so Bishop Miguel León ordered the convent’s employees to leave. For more than 400 years the entire building was occupied by the nuns.
The museum exhibits the sculptures, objects, paintings, and altarpieces from the old convent, hidden to the eyes of the general public for over four hundred years.
Currently the Museum of the Monastery of the Conceptas, has 24 rooms; 8 of these are on the ground floor, where information is provided about the convent, its restoration, and how the daily life of the nuns developed..
There is a beautiful series of black and white photographs by Gustavo Landívar that show the different activities of the cloister nuns, such as prayer, making hosts, bread, and agua de pitimas (healing drink).
The central courtyard gardens showcase every herb, flower and plant that once grew inside. Besides being beautiful, they are like veritable botanical gardens full of variety and color. There are datura and penapenas, acanthus, chamburo, ciglaló, the Heart of Mary, linden, feverfew, and San Pedro cactus.
The niches where nuns were previously buried are also preserved on the first floor.
The entrance to the museum is on Calle Miguel Hermano.
The face of Saint Michael the Archangel, a life size carving from the 17th century, is framed by the real hair of a novice. It has a silver sword carved in the first half of the 17th century. San Miguel Arcángel is a warrior who has on his head a European warrior’s helmet but with feathers that represented the Andean warriors. The wings are made with gold leaf that represent the European culture and contain mirrors that are symbols of the Cañari culture.
The sculpture of San Miguel Arcángel has its’ own room. The Las Conceptas community had him as a protector against thieves. If the nuns heard any noise in the Cloister, they were not scared because they believed that Saint Michael was prowling the corridors to protect them.
The Museum has a beautiful collection of sculptures of angels from the 18th and 18th century.
The convent received rich gifts and donations. Inside, great works of art, furniture, jewelry and glassware were kept, which were almost always hidden from the outside world.It was only in the1960s that these treasures began to be exhibited to the public, since by monastic orders they remained out of sight. In 1966 a few pieces of the monastery came out for the first time and were part of an exhibition that traveled through some cities in the United States .
This is believed to be one of the earliest photographs of Cuenca, in which one can clearly see the belfry of the Monasterio. It must have been a city landmark during the colonial and republican periods.
At the beginning of the 1980s, a restoration project was generated in the monastery to turn it into a museum. This project was carried out by two young Cuenca architects, Edmundo Iturralde and Gustavo Lorrelt, who worked with architect Hernán Crespo Toral.
Work commenced on a restoration project for the present day museum, sponsored by the Central Bank of Ecuador. The project involved the remodeling of the old infirmary and cemetery to accommodate the Museum of Religious Art, which opened to the public in 1986.
Since the girls who entered the convent were often as young as 8-12 years old, they brought their toys with them. There is a room devoted to the toys these young girls brought with them.The girls who entered the convent belonged to the wealthy classes and they took their toys with them to the convent for a temporary or permanent residence.
There are rooms where the daily life of the nuns is recreated , such as the cells where they slept. The nuns kitchen, the large pots and the products they used from the garden are also recreated.
Carved stone steps leading into the church.
The present day church was built in 1712. In 1876 another building phase commenced resulting in the addition of an infirmary, novice house, and the completion of the belfry. The carved doors of the church date to 1924.
On the feast day for Michel Archangel on September 29th there is a special mass in the church. Then the faithful celebrate it by taking the statue outside of the church in a procession around the convent.