ON AUGUST 5, 1621, a group composed of 10 nuns of the Franciscan Order arrived in Manila to establish the first convent in the country, the Convento de Santa Clara.
Hidden in isolation within Intramuros and named after the Real Convento de Santa Clara of Spain, it was founded by Mother Geronima de la Asuncion, a relative of the Spanish monarch.
Mother Geronima de la Asuncion belonged to a contemplative female branch of the Franciscan Order, popularly called “Poor Clares”, after their foundress, St. Clare, a follower of St. Francis of Assisi.
Following the rules of seclusion, the nuns built a 30- foot windowless wall that cut them from the city. The nuns did not leave their convent until 1762, during the British occupation when they left Intramuros to reside in the Franciscan Convent in Santa Ana, where they remained for two years.
The nunnery was dubbed “living death” because women who entered were never seen again by outsiders.
The only signs of their existence were the chants that would waft through the monastery chapel during Mass and common prayers.
The monastery is figured in Dr. Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere”. It was there that the hapless and tragic Maria Clara found refuge and met her end.
During the last thirty years of her life, Mother Geronima lived in constant illness. In early September 1630, her health deteriorated. She died at dawn on October 22, 1630 at the age of 75.