Yesterday was the feastday of Sta. Clara de Assisi, famed virgin and partner in mission of the Seraphic saint of Assisi, Francisco. My personal devotion to this saint has been long and memorable, her serving as one of my patronesses and inspiration. The holy life she led, and the intimate graces she has worked in me are sources of strength and wisdom.
As practice, I went to the only Poor Clares monastery in the city that I am aware of (I really think there are none other) — the Real Monasterio de Sta. Clara. Located along Aurora Boulevard and underneath the Katipunan C5, the location of this shrine to Sta. Clara is so near Ateneo that it is irresponsible for me to pay the lovely saint a personal visit. Luckily, when I arrived at the jampacked church-monastery complex at 9:30, a Mass was just about to be said. And as if Sta. Clara was not yet done in showering me with simple joys, the hymns of the Mass were all intoned in Latin! Lovely!
But what is the history of this devotion to Sta. Clara and the very name of the instutition of the Real Monasterio de Sta. Clara?
In 1599, Fray Diego de Soria, OP, who was commissioned to be the second bishop of Nueva Segovia (based in Vigan, Ilocos), visited his sister in the Monastery of Poor Clares of Sta. Isabel la Real in Toledo in an effort of bringing with him to the Philippines the first batch of contemplative Franciscan nuns. In the process, a nun of noble descent, Sor Jerónima de la Asunción took responsibility over the mission. Already known for her piety in Toledo, Sor Jerónima made it her personal goal, thereafter, to bring the spirit of Clare to the Philippines. To their dismay, much like today, the Spanish and Manila bureaucratic processes were long and tedious and it took a total of 11 years before Sor Jerónima and her partners to secure the necessary permits.
In 1620, 66 years of age, Sor Jerónima and seven other volunteer nuns left Spain for the Philippines. In Sevilla, the Franciscan Provincial ordered Sor Jerónima to pose for a painting by a young budding artist, Diego de Velásquez, who would later become one of Spain’s best and most celebrated artists. In Mexico, the team was joined by two other nuns. In the course of their sojourn, they lost one sister at sea. After staying in Mexico for six months (Sor Jerónima actually became ill before reaching Mexico), the sisters made an extremely strenuous trip through rugged and mosquito-filled terrain from Mexico city to the port of Acapulco. By the time the sisters got to Acapulco, all of them were sick and in serious fatigue, but it was Sor Jerónima who was most ill that everybody thought she was going to die even before getting on the boat bound for Manila.
Fortunately, after ten days of convalescence, the venerable woman of strength , all sisters embarked on the galleon San Andrés on Maundy Thursday of 1621. During the entire trip though, a great source of pain for the sisters was seeing Sor Jerónima with high fever. It was also during this crossing when one of their companions, Sor Maria de la Trinidad, died as they were nearing the Marianas Islands. Her body was thrown into the sea.
Finally, in 24 July 1621, the San Andrés docked at the port of Bolinao, Pangasinan. On 5 August, the nuns arrived in Manila after one year, three months and nine days.
From hence, the history of the Real Monasterio de Sta. Clara de Manila would commence.
(the following blog will discuss the Monasterio de Sta. Clara)