The Real Monasterio de Santa Clara (The Royal Monastery of Santa Clara)
The Monasterio de Santa Clara in Intramuros housed the oldest religious order for women in the Philippines.
Its monastery once stood beside the hospital Militar, near Fort Santiago. The religious order is known as the Order of Saint Clare or the poor clares, a branch of the Franciscan order established in Italy by Saint Clare in the year 1212. In the 1600s demand grew in Manila for a convent where women could dedicate their lives in prayer and contemplation.
In 1620, a Royal decree allowed for the establishment of a convent under royal patronage. Mother Jeronima de la Asuncion of Toledo, then 60 years old, volunteered to be part of the pioneering community in Manila. Mother Jeronima and her companions set sail for Mexico and then Manila, arriving in the city a year later in 1621. Maestro del Campo, Pedro Chavez, and his wife Dona Ana de Vera donated their mansion to the poor clares. The couple also donated a hacienda for the upkeep of the religious community.
The convent was established in 1621, with mother Jeronima de la Asuncion becoming its first abbess. For more than 300 years, women who have decided to dedicate their lives to religious contemplation would enter the convent of Santa Clara, leaving their old lives to live in religious seclusion behind the high walls of the monastery.
The earthquakes of 1645 and 1863 would deal great damage to the convent. But the convent was rebuilt after each disaster. Men were not allowed to enter the premises except for the Franciscan Chaplain.
During the British invasion of Manila in 1762, the nuns were escorted by soldiers out of their convent and out to the safety of the countryside. The convent was immortalized in Jose Rizal’s novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. In the novel, it is the convent where Maria Clara enters to become a nun.
Devotees also went to the convent to give an offering of eggs to have clear weather. In a rare instance during the Battle of Manila in 1945, the convent was partially spared by Japanese troops after the Japanese officer gave it his protection. However, this did not protect the convent from the American shelling of Intramuros as liberating forces closed in on the Walled City. Several nuns and sisters were killed and the convent was practically obliterated.
The property was sold by the poor clares after the war. It remains a vacant parking lot to this day. The poor clares built a new monastery in Quezon City, near Katipunan Avenue. Offerings of eggs for clear weather continue in the convent to this day.