Sevilla - Our Visit with the Cloistered Nuns

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End May 25, 2007

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The new express trains in Spain are like a dream. We were zipped to Sevilla from Madrid in style in only two hours. We had planned to go to Sevilla when we came to Spain, a recommendation from our cousin Jen, but before we left we mentioned this plan to our friend Father Dominic. He is a Tanzanian priest working in Seattle and he told us that he has a young cousin there who was a nun in a cloistered community. They rarely get visitors so he said we should stop by and visit them.

The convent in question was San Leandro. We contacted them before coming and they were very excited to hear we would be visiting them. When we arrived at the convent we found an interesting grouping of nuns there. Eight of the sisters were Spanish, the youngest being in her mid 60's and the oldest probably in her 90's. The rest of the sisters, nine all together, were Tanzanian and Kenyan, the youngest about 22 and the oldest in her mid thirties. If you are wondering how all these African nuns ended up in Spain, it has to do with the type of order they choose when they decide to become a nun.

Some orders go out into the community and serve the people directly (Sisters of Providence, for example). Some orders like the Carmelites and others are cloistered meaning they live a life of contemplation and prayer inside the walls of the convent and do not go into the community at all. San Leandro is one of these communities. The interest in joining convents has declined pretty sharply in Europe but there are still these lovely buildings there set up for that purpose. If you are a cloistered nun it doesn't really matter what community you are in so it makes more sense to send young nuns to the functioning convents instead of building more in Africa. As you can guess, the African Catholic church still has many young women answering the call.

So, this is how we found this group of East African women here. To say that we were welcomed would be an understatement. The nuns were so delighted to host us they insisted that we eat every meal at the convent and arranged a hotel nearby.

The convent itself is divided into two spaces - the spaces where the public is allowed and the spaces where only the sisters are allowed. Some of the rooms have a large open window with bars where people sit on either side and chat across.This is a photo of Julius in one of these rooms with one of our gigantic meals. They pass the food into the room with a lazy susan. As you may guess by now, the nuns do not eat with guests. The food they cooked us, however, was divine! Julius insisted that we eat it all as not to offend our host, but it seemed that the meals kept getting bigger every time. When we left Sevilla we did not have to eat for two day just to let the food clear our system. We did notice that there were no thin nuns at the convent, except those who had only been there for a few months. This was not a surprise by the time we left.

When the sisters were done eating they would all pull up chairs on the other side of the bars and we would chat for well over an hour. They were all fluent in Spanish so they would translate for the Spanish nuns. Of course this meant I (Sara) had to brush up on my Swahili (No English was spoken). Good Thing Julius was there! The rapport between the Spanish and African nuns was wonderful. The Spanish nuns talked about how happy they were to get these new nuns in their convent. Everyone was joking and laughing and teasing. They were really a strong and loving community despite the large age and cultural difference.

On Sunday they do allow select guests to join them for Mass. The nuns even sang some Swahili songs that we had requested. It was nice to see even the priest was mixing some Swahili into the mass. It gave us an opportunity to mingle with them and to take some photos when the service was over. This photo is most of the nuns, along with the priest and the people who live in the "public" part of the convent and run all the outside errands for the nuns.

When talking about Sevilla we need to mention the lovely city and the amazing Cathedral. It rained off and on while we were there and the climate was quite warm and sticky like Florida. But it just made the streets
more beautiful.

The Cathedral is the third largest in the world, after St Peter's in Rome and St Paul's in London. It is hard to explain how gigantic it is. Pictures don't do it justice. It has a gold altar that is as intricate as it is immense.

So that is our trip to Sevilla in a nutshell! If anyone wants to visit a very fun order of nuns just look for San Leandro convent. Only Swahili and Spanish speakers, of course! They make and sell Yemas, a crystallized soft boiled egg that are popular in Spain. You have to be a fan of eggs to enjoy them. Just say "Kilo yemas" at the lazy susan and spin some money around.

To see the rest of the Sevilla photos, click here!

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