My Life in Peru

An Expat Mom Shares Her Experiences with Peruvian Life, Travel and Food

Santo Domingo Monastery in Lima

Posted on | August 30, 2011 | 3 Comments

Yesterday, I told you about our visit to the birthplace of Santa Rosa de Lima, the patron saint of Lima.  Today, I’ll be sharing our visit to the Santo Domingo Monastery, where Saint Rose has been laid to rest.

This is a view from the outside of the monastery. Construction started on it in the late 15oos, but it wasn’t completed for several decades. It was home for a while to the National University of San Marcos – the first university in the Americas, and actually one of the oldest universities in the world.

San Martin de PorresThe monastery is actually dedicated to three Peruvian saints – Santa Rosa, San Juan Macias and my favorite saint, San Martin de Porres. (No, I’m not Catholic – or any religion for that matter – but I’ve got a favorite saint. Go figure) San Martin was the first black saint in the Americas, he was kind to animals and the poor, and is the patron of mixed race people and interracial harmony.  I like that. Just inside the door, in the antechamber where you wait for your tour to start, is this statue of Saint Martin himself – it reminds me of the statue of the saint in the Madonna “Like a Prayer” video.

Cedar ceiling in the Santo Domingo Monastery in LimaThe monastery is a guided tour, and you can have a tour guide that speaks Spanish or English. We usually get an English speaking guide on these things, because they are bilingual and can explain anything my husband doesn’t understand in Spanish. There weren’t any other English speaking people at the monastery the time we were there, so we got a guide all to ourselves, which was really nice – we were free to ask a lot of questions and he was really knowledgeable, not just about this church but with comparing it to other other churches in the city center and with Lima history in general.  One of the things he told us about this ceder ceiling is that it’s made of over 3000 separate pieces of wood, fitted together like a puzzle – and held together with no nails or glue! It’s the tight fit that keeps them all in place.  Wish I’d been able to get a better picture, but there was no flash allowed.

Passing through this large room leads into the first cloister. There were originally 12 cloisters in the monastery and I believe he said over 150 priests. Now, there are only 2 cloisters and 12 priests.  I took a picture of this garden, but it doesn’t really do it justice. Fortunately, I found this 360 viewer of the cloister that is really a much better view than what I got – 360 degree view of garden in Santo Domingo Monastery. The walls around the cloister are lined with Spanish tiles and paintings. The hand painted tiles, originally done in 1606, are of Moorish influence.  Some parts of it had to be renovated after various earthquakes and you can see the difference in the painting styles – the faces in the original tiles show workers with aged, tired faces, but the redone tiles are cherubic, half-nude figures.

Another view of the tiles – I think they’re so beautiful. By the way, you can click on all these pictures to see a larger version – most of them look a lot better big.





This is the university library – it holds over 25000 books! This photo is only of one side – the other side of the room is just as full as this one. I love the big music book on the stand. They would print out the chants or songs on these huge pages then stand them in the middle of the choir loft and all the singers would read from the same music sheet. I suppose that’s more interesting to me as a former choral singer than it might be to the average dude on the street.

Of course, the whole reason for the visit was to learn more about Santa Rosa, and for that we had this next room. It’s a newly refurbished room in the monastery – in fact, it still smelled of fresh paint – dedicated to the life of Lima’s patron saint.  The painting of Santa Rosa by Italian artist Angelino Medora looms over the shrine, where you’ll also see this beautiful sculpture carved entirely from one piece of marble.  There are many other tributes to the saint in this room, from her image on Peruvian money to the postmortem painting done as she lay on her death bed.  (Sorry this one is a little out of focus – lighting in the room is very dim and no flash allowed to protect the valuable paintings, so I had a really long exposure time)

The Tomb of Santa Rosa de LimaDown a short hallway and down a very steep and narrow set of stairs is a large, nearly empty, cave-like room. At the far end is a small shrine, and it is here that we find the tomb of Santa Rosa.  Her body is laid in a crypt in the stone wall, with an alter built in front of it.  At the foot of the stairs at the opposite end of the room, I noticed what looked almost like a stage built of more Spanish tile – with an odd, raised manhole cover in the middle of the top. I asked the guide what this was and he told us it was a common grave used for the early priests of the convent.


Sanctuary in the Santo Domingo MonasteryOf course, the monastery is also the resting place of San Martin de Porres.  This beautiful, gilded sanctuary has statues of each of the three saints honored here in the monastery; from left to right, Santa Rosa, San Martin and San Juan Macias.  This high vaulted room was stunning – pictures really don’t do it justice, especially this shaky, blurred picture.




Tomb of San Martin de PorresThere were a few rows of pews for the penitent there in the sanctuary, and over to one side almost unnoticed lay the tomb of San Martin himself.  The writing says “Glorious tomb of the great apostle of charity, San Martin de Porres – born 9 Dec 1579, died 3 November 1639, Canonized by Pope John 23 on 6 May 1962”.  The tomb is kind of small, and we were thinking that San Martin must have been a very short man. Later, researching for this post, I found out that both his and Santa Rosa’s bodies were interred here with the heads removed.  Their skulls are apparently on display over in the city cathedral, on the Plaza Mayor.  Which leads me to think how awesome it would be to have one of those facial reconstructors use the skulls to recreate their faces.  Or maybe I’ve just been watching too many episodes of ‘Bones’. But honestly, I would love to see what their faces really looked like, these long ago people who once walked in the same streets of Lima that I do.

Stained glass window in the Santo Domingo Monastery Our final stop on the tour of Santo Domingo Monastery was this amazing stained glass piece showing all three of the saints. San Martin was born in Lima, the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a former slave from Panama; Santa Rosa was born just across the street, the daughter of a working class family; San Juan Macias was born in Spain, orphaned and raised to be a shepherd by his uncle, not coming to Peru until he was 25 years of age. But these three contemporaries were all known for their humility and their charity to others – I still find these to be common attributes of many Peruvians I meet today.

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3 Responses to “Santo Domingo Monastery in Lima”

  1. Articles About Peru: Online Roundup August 2011 | How to Peru
    August 31st, 2011 @ 19:45

    […] Santo Domingo Monastery in Lima: August 30 was Saint Rose of Lima Day, a Peruvian national holiday in honour of, surprisingly, Saint Rose of Lima. Kelly (My Life in Peru) took a timely trip to the Santo Domingo Monastery, the final resting place of Santa Rosa (you can read more Saint Rose of Lima here). […]

  2. Capital of Peru
    September 3rd, 2011 @ 08:47

    Seems like a must visit when in Lima- great history.
    Capital of Peru´s last blog post ..Lima Nightlife Guide

  3. Samantha Bangayan
    September 3rd, 2011 @ 11:57

    Wow! What an informative post, Kelly! Thanks so much for taking the time to share about your tour! I seem to walk buy tons of churches and monasteries, never thinking how much history they store inside. It also sounds like San Martin de Porres could be a favorite saint of mine too! =) Can’t wait to read more about this and potentially visit the place when I’m in Lima sometime! =)
    Samantha Bangayan´s last blog post ..Before the World Ends: The Earthquake in Peru

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    I got tired of life happening while I made other plans, so I quit my job and came to Peru. I live here with my Peruvian husband, two sons, three dogs and various other family members, depending on the weather.

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