Museo del Carmen Alto

A statue of Mariana de Jesus outside the Church.

A statue of Mariana de Jesus outside the Church.

The Museo del Carmen Alto is a new addition to the attractions in Quito, opening just last year. It is most famous for being a convent for the Carmelite nuns. Today, the space is dedicated to the life and work of Mariana de Jesus, a young woman born in Quito on October 31, 1618. This place was her former home. Her life was dedicated to prayer and penitence. Though she never became a nun, her daily activities very much reflected that of a sister in a convent. She died at the young age of 27. Her piety and religious faith have always been recognized by the people of Quito who often refer to her as Santa Marianita de Jesus. In 1853, the Catholic Church conducted her beatification and in 1950 she officially became a saint, the first for Ecuador. The National Assembly of Ecuador declared her a Heroína de la Patria in 1945.

Much of the museum are rooms from her old home and the tour takes you to her old bedroom which eventually became the choir chambers for the church built next door. You can see the items she wore for penitence, necklaces of delicate metal spikes and vests embedded with thorns which would bite into her skin. There are many portraits painted in her likeness but also other works of religious art that are part of the convent’s collection. The highlight are the murals, faded but still recognizable, along the walls of the second story walkway that look out over the main inner courtyard. The condition of the murals is remarkable considering they remained open to the elements for decades. Today the walkway is better protected by the addition of clear glass windows in the archways.

Unfortunately, pictures of the interior are not allowed but that will just give you all the more reason to visit! The museum is located just near the Queen’s Arch (Arco de la Reina) along the Calle de las Siete Cruces on the corner of García Moreno and Vicente Rocafuerte. If you can find the Museo de la Ciudad, it’s immediately across the street! The entrance fee is $3 for adults, $2 for students with ID, $1 for children and senior citizens. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 until 5:30 but the last entrance is one hour before they close.

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