The Monastery of Saint Catherine is a monastery of nuns of the Domincan Second Order, located in Arequipa, Peru. It was built in 1580 and was enlarged in the 17th century. The over 20,000-square-meter monastery was built predominantly in the Mudéjar style, and is characterized by its vividly painted walls. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.
The foundress of the monastery was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the Church, and the monastery accepted only women from upper class Spanish families. Each nun here had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns invited musicians to perform in the monastery, gave parties and generally lived a lavish lifestyle.
Each family paid a dowry at their daughter's admission to the monastery. The dowry expected of a woman who wised to enter as a choir nun--indicated by wearing a black veil--and who thereby accepted the duty of the daily recitation of the Divine Office, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to about $150,000 (U.S.) today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English China and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy.