Casa de Moneda, carmelite order convent, and the doom and gloom of the old catholic church
Potosi Travel Blog› entry 1 of 4 › view all entries
May 27th, 2006 – by: monicaflory
Slept in and had a pretty relaxing day. We went to the casa de moneda, which used to be a colonial mint during spanish rule. It was a very large spanish building that surrounded a central square. The building had dark wooden floors, and the walls were lined with religious works of art. Yet, some of the paintings didn´t make sense to me. Our tour guide, Julio, explained to us that many of the stories the paintings depicted had been altered for the sake of teaching the indians christianity. Concepts of "immaculate conception" didn´t make sense to them, so it was easier to teach the indians through their eyes vs. their ears. Also, the local indians didn´t speak spanish, but their native language Quechwa. The museum displayed the progression of Bolivian money from the handstamped, irregular, silver coins, up until the more amss produced coins of the early 1800s. In the beginning of the mints history, 4 mules were hooked up to yolks and they cranked huge cog and sprockets that would press out an oar of silver (taken from the towns Cerro Rico mines) into a uniform width and depth strip of silver which could then be further processed into coins. Eventually though, steam engines from the United States were brought in to make the process more efficient. A controversy broke out, when Julio stated that although other historians and guidebooks proclaimed that black slaves were used as mules in the coin making process and in the mines, that this was absolutely not true. He pointed to the fact that Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4070m above sea level, and with many African Americans having the sickle cell anemia deformity of their red blood cells, that it would be physically impossible for the slaves to do such demanding jobs, as their red blood cells couldn´t carry enough oxygen. He pointed out that mules and native indians were a much cheaper option. We then headed to the Museo de Santa Teresa, which was a convent of the carmelite order during the colonial times. It was customary that the 2nd daughter was to be prepared for life in the convent, yet only the rich could affourd this, with dowry prices equivalent to $100,000. The dowry could be paid in the form of art, furnitrue, or of course money. When the convent was still active, all dowry items were stored, but as this is now a museum, all items are on display. When a daughter was dropped off, this would be the last time she would ever leave the convent and depending on the time, be able to tough or see her family ever again. Early on, the girls couldn´t touch or see their families, but later on the could touch through cage like bars, which they could also see through. The nuns awoke at 4 am for the first prayer of the day, with there being 4 prayers in total. Their days were very simple, with making candies to sell, clothes for the priest (these were made out of their elaborate clothes they wore into the convent, in exchange for the simple brown habits they wore), or praying. Their rooms were also very simple, with a curtained in single bed (for warmth), and a raised wooden platform upon wich a small shrine for praying was located on. This was also for warmth, as the tiled floor was very cold. Many of the rooms were decorated with the dowries, which included statues, picutres, clothing and jewelry for the statues, and mirrors. The kitchen was also very simple, with 2 ceramic sinks to wash in, and a few ovens that burnt llama dung as fuel, since trees are non-existant in the high altitude. Our guide led us around the premises, which included 2 working gardens, although at its peak, the convent had 15. Every door was locked with massive keys to which our guide carried around a basket that was completely full. We were wondering how the sisters sold the candies, or got supplies, to which our guide showed us a revolving door, which looked like a very large lazy susan cupboard. The women of the community would bring them all the supplies the convent needed. Most of the old convent grounds have been sold, but there is a portion of it that contains one garden that the remaining 10 sisters work and use the small area. We continued on, viewing the church, which interestingly the nuns couldn´t even attend mass in. They sat in little rooms off the upstairs of the church to listen and only 3 times per year sing for the church. We also got to see the burial chambers which were little cupboards, that its doors made up the floor. The deceased nuns were placed individually into a cupboard until the flesh decomposed and then the bones were placed into a community burial chamber. This was not the only dark thing we saw in this church. This museum also displayed all of the penance devices that the nuns would use, which consists of whips and barbed chains to place on their thighs or arms. In the dining room was also another gloomy scene. On the head table, the skull of the most senior/important pries who had died at that convent, sat at the head table when they had their meals. Later that night, we went to Kaypichu cafe and had dinner. When we came back we ran into a kid from Eric and Justins school in Buenos Aires. We decided to go to a cafe and hang out for awhile. Came back and went to bed.
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