Sunday, November 5, 2023

VALLADOLID, SPAIN - Cloistered Convent

There are numerous magnificant religious structures in Valladolid, 
though at times it is the small chapel or capilla out of the main that impresses the most.

Inside these historic edifices one expects to see highly ornate goldwork, 
colorful stained glass, religious statues and soaring architectural stonework...  
and you do!

But what can be found behind the simple, plain wooden doors in walls of plaster and stucco?

Though I have walked this particular street many times, 
was not prepared for what lay behind such a non-descript exterior.

As you enter this street, on your left is the large gothic stone structure,  
that is today a repository for provincial records, 
though it looks like it might have been a church in it's day.

While admiring the tall massive gothic structure, one tends to ignore the simple wall 
of stucco and old doors on the other side of the street.

Turning around, you see there is a small statue of the Virgen Mary in an alcove above the only door. 
Which is not unusual as many homes here have a statue of the Virgen Mary
in their garden or in an alcove.

One Sunday, I notice that door was standing open.
That's an invitation in Spain to come in.

Removing my hat in the foyer, am awaken by the light inside.
I was pleasantly surprised and awed by what is behind the plain brown painted doors.

Never expected to find a small yet brightly lite, impressively clean, neat, well cared for church ...
it's high nave with a painted ceiling with an elaberate golden alter on the far wall.
All behind such a nondescript exterior.

It's a convent's church...
the Monasterio de Santa Isabel de Hungary, 
a convent for Clarisas Fransiscan nuns. 

Today it is still a functioning convent, while it also showcases a museum, a bakery that sells treats
several days a week to help support the nuns living here, and this hidden church.

Knowing the nuns here pledged to live a simple auster lifestyle, one would not expect 
to see a highly ornate private church behind the cloistered walls.

Pause for a moment to study all of the highly detailed ornate artwork, religious symbols as a
clean tidy display in this photo. Unlike many golden alters seen which are a clutter of dark icons competeing with each other for attention (see next photo), this alter is neatly organized in an orderly fashion. Such as a nun would do...

In photography we call that having a focal point. 
Drawing the viewer's eye to where you want them to look.

Here is an example of a more heavy handed decorated church.
You do not know where you are suppose to look. There is no focal point.
 Everything there screams for attention. Bad design...

What is particularly interesting as I don't remember seeing many of these, 
 to the right of the sanctuary in the convent church, 
behind a sturdy iron grate is what they call the nun's chapel.  
Also call by some as a Choir Sister's room. 
Next to the grate, out of sight, is an iron door.

Cloistered convents maintained a strict set of rules concerning contact between the nuns inside the convent and the outside public, including the Catholic clergy. This convent allowed the public to attend mass here attended to by a visiting priest, but they were not to have contact with the nuns. Nor were the nuns to see the public. A woven cloth would be hung across the grate blocking anyone viewing of the nuns, 
yet the congregation could still hear their voices singing. 
And the nuns could hear the priest officiating the Mass.

 When the iron door between the chapel and the church was locked, 
the only accessed to the chapel room is from inside the convent itself. 
After the public had left the church and the main doors were locked, 
the iron door between the nun's chapel 
and the nave was unlocked, so the nuns could clean and maintain their church. 

Though nuns and the novices all attended a mandatory daily mass,
they were always separated from the Priest and the public.  

It is said it took two keys to open the main doors of the convent. 
Two highly respected nuns, often elderly, were entrusted with one key each. 
They were what stood between the vulnerable nuns inside and the world of heathens outside.

This was a unique opportunity to see a Convent's chapel, 
as many are never opened for public viewing.



  1. Very cool tour of this hidden gem of a church! I found the sequestration of the nuns interesting.

    1. I wonder how may cloistered convents still exist today. About a half block down that sidestreet is another convent with plain stucco walls, plain heavy wooden doors. Have never seen its doors open, nor anyone coming and going. When I asked about it, people just shrugged their shoulders, said nothing.

    2. Today I found someone who knew about the other convent, the one I said I never saw anyone go in or come out. He told me it is a cloistered convent, which means the nuns have no contact with anyone outside their walls. If one wants to enter, they must contact the Mother Superior and ask permission. Don't expect to get an open arms welcome!


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