Of eggs and nuns: the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara

Quezon City

The rainy season is upon us and it would be inevitable to see some pious Catholics make their way to this particular corner near the intersection of Aurora Boulevard and Katipunan Avenue (part of the C-5 road network) Considering the area’s proximity to the commercial districts of Eastwood City and Cubao, not to mention the educational-commercial “district” of Katipunan Avenue, it is surprising that the place itself is a quiet neighborhood…quiet enough for a monastery like the Real Monasterio de Sta. Clara de Manila to be there.

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But this one is not just any monastery where devout Catholics go to pray for good weather or some other intercession, It is a monastery which a long and rich history to tell.

Its story actually began in a different place, in the walled city we know as Intramuros when in 1621, a group of nuns belonging to the Catholic Order of the Poor Clares (the religious contemplative order of nuns founded by St. Clare of Assisi associated with the Franciscan order) established what would become the first Catholic monastery in Asia. Its foundress and first abbess was the Spanish-born 61-year old Mother Jeronima de la Asuncion, who happens one of the people immortalized in Diego Velasquez painting.

the foundress of the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara, Jeronima de la Asuncion, as depicted by renowned Spanish painter Diego Velasquez (courtesy of Wikipedia)
the foundress of the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara, Jeronima de la Asuncion, as depicted by renowned Spanish painter Diego Velasquez (courtesy of Wikipedia)

They established their presence in a property just near the Spanish military fortification of Fort Santiago. For more than 300 years, the Poor Clares lived there in a life of prayer and seclusion, with a 30-foot high windowless wall that isolated them from the rest of the world. As one writer put it, going into the Santa Clara monastery is considered a “living death” because the women who enter there were never heard of by the world again. This place was immortalized in Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere” as the final place where the tragic heroine Maria Clara sought refuge.

Old Sta Clara

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Santa Clara Street near the former Monasterio de Santa Clara

The Poor Clares were so firmly established in their monastery during those 300 years that they only had to move out twice: once was during the British Occupation of 1762-64 to escape the attack on nearby Fort Santiago and the second and most devastating in 1945 during the Battle of Manila when the old monastery was heavily bombed and decimated thanks to American shelling of the area. Some nuns were also killed due to the bombing.

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It would take 5 years before the nuns would have a new home, this time in far off Quezon City near the Marikina Valley and Loyola Heights. Originally the monastery was located right along Aurora Boulevard itself but during the 1990s, it had to be relocated a few meters away as the area was going to be hit by the construction of the then-planned Katipunan Avenue extension that would be part of the C-5 road network.

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These days, the monastery is a popular place for pious Catholics to visit, especially to ask for the intercession of St. Clare for good weather or other things, with eggs wrapped in colorful cellophane wraps served as offerings. It is said to be a symbolism as the egg’s white color symbolizes purity, clear skies, and clear conscience of the intercessor, not to mention a reference to the name of the saint herself, which means clarity.

Acknowledgements to Intramuros2007, HechoAyer, Inquirer, and Jose Victor Torres’ book “Ciudad Murada”

© The Urban Roamer

4 thoughts on “Of eggs and nuns: the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara”

  1. I owe my NCEE score to Sta. Clara. The entire senior class went and offered prayers and eggs and we got our pencils blessed as well the day before the exams. I have not been to the new monastery, but I will definitely make an effort to visit next time I am home. Thanks for this insight into the history of the nuns and the monastery.

  2. The sentence that the nuns who enter are never heard of again is a misnomer. It is not true as i have a cousin who is a nun at st. Clare but we used to see her once a year until recently when she now calls us and schedules when we would see her. We can see the nuns but we cannot touch her as they are behind a wire.

    1. It was a quote I heard from somewhere which sadly I could not find. May have been an exaggeration or may have been true then but not now to some extent.

      1. The Statement is true. The reason why your cousin a Poor Clare Nun can now be seen and is allowed outside is because of the reforms of the Vatican II mitigated the very stringent rule of enclosure imposed during the Council of Trent.

        Before Vatican II, strict separation was observed by all members of the Cloistered Order particularly the Nuns. For Poor Clare Colettines PCC (I am not sure about OSC), the Nuns wear enclosure veil if the curtains in their parlor grates or on the choir grates were set on the sides. This enclosure veil is another set of thin veil that they pin on top of the black veils and they pull it down if the occasion calls for it. Also before Vatican II, there were no family visits allowed; even simple surgeries were done inside the enclosure. The Trappistines in the US even have a dental office, complete with equipment in their own monastery so that Nuns wont have to go out to see a dentist. The Discalced Carmelite Nuns wore grate veils if they go outside during foundations and their monasteries grate used to have spikes on it! Manila Carmel removed the spikes from their choir and parlor grille but Mother Prioress left the spikes found on the very top of the choir grilles where on one can touch them.

        Discussions on cloistered life of women before Vatican II can be searched on Vocation Station at http://www.phatmass.com.

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