Iglesia y Convento de Las Capuchinas is one of Antigua Guatemala’s most visited ruins and a popular wedding venue. It recently made international news as the stage for the union between American actors Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Symon. Learn the history and visiting information for this interesting attraction.
Hill and Simon at Las Capuchinas circular tower
Iglesia y Convento de Las Capuchinas
Iglesia y Convento de Las Capuchinas, Antigua Guatemala
Address: 2a Avenida Norte and 2a Calle Oriente
Hours: 9 am to 4 pm, Monday – Friday
Entrance Fees: Q5 for nationals, Q40 for foreigners
The Religious Order
The Clarissine Nuns got their start in 1522, when founder María Lorenza Longo established a hospital and monastery for prostitutes in Napoli, Italy.
From there, their influence grew and in 1538, Pope Paul III granted them the status of a religious order. They became known as “Orden de las Hermanas Clarisas Capuchinas“. They were an offshoot of the Saint Francis order (“Franciscanos”, or Franciscans), which was already established in the city by the time the nuns arrived, and that had founded San Francisco Church.
Saint Francis followers were characterized by their vows of extreme poverty and a relentless obsession with death. Their adherents, among them Hermano Pedro, were known to keep skulls (known as a “memento mori”, or “reminder of death”) at their bedside. The skulls helped them remember to endure trials and hardships as only temporary. You can see Hno. Pedro’s memento skull at the Hermano Pedro Museum behind San Francisco Church in Antigua.
It’s not known if the nuns at Las Capuchinas kept skulls of their own around, but that may not have been necessary – they had sculptures like these laying around.
Sobering skull sculpture
Construction of Las Capuchinas
During colonial times, many religious orders sought to expand their reach and establish a presence in the New World. Clarissine Nuns were a relatively late coming to the city, arriving in 1726.
The nuns wasted very little time in finding and funding construction of their new church and convent. King Phillip V approved the construction of the complex in 1725.
Courtyard, Capuchinas convent – the fountain is not the original
The official name of record for this church and women’s convent is a mouthful – Convento e Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza. Locals and tourists, however, refer to this former religious complex simply as “Las Capuchinas“, which is also the nickname of the founding religious order.
The fountain at the convent was recovered from former Santa Ines church, which is now mostly rubble
The convent’s exterior was built in the distinctive, rugged Reinassance style favored by architect Diego de Porres. He started construction in 1731 and finished in 1736. Las Capuchinas was the last women’s convent founded in the city.
Iglesia de las Capuchinas (Capuchinas church)
One of de Porres architectural innovations was the technique known as earthquake baroque, which he began using after the 1717 earthquakes that leveled most buildings in the city.
This type of architecture featured very thick walls and lower ceilings. This is the reason why many of de Porres buildings (such as Escuela de Cristo, Santa Clara convent, and Palacio Municipal) are still standing.
Earthquake resistant architecture
The Famous Circular Tower
For a long time, historians have proposed many theories regarding the famous circular tower behind the complex.
The circular tower at Las Capuchinas
Some argued that it was designed for spiritual retreats, others that is was an asylum for older nuns suffering from dementia, or the most popular theory, that the cells in the circular tower served as a torture chamber for carrying out penance.
Circular cells, las Capuchinas
Historian Alberto Garín – the curator at Casa Popenoé, has put forth the theory that the tower was, in fact, a water storage facility and a sanatorium. As evidence, Garin points to the side entrance from the street to the tower as evidence.
A side door, he argues, would have allowed a doctor to make discreet house calls without breaking the oath of convent resident nuns, who were forbidden to leave the convent or be seen by outsiders.
Display of what a cell at Las Capuchinas might have looked like in colonial times
There’s also a circular underground room next to the tower, which historians claimed was used by nuns to either store food, practice their singing, or to pray while walking endlessly in circles. Garín proposes that instead of that creepy theory, the circular underground room was actually a water cistern and the purpose of its windows was to collect rainwater.
Underground cistern, or a torture chamber?
Architect de Porres was respected for his engineering knowledge of water delivery – he also built the fountain at Parque Central, so this theory appears to…
wait for it…
hold water *rimshot*.
Life at Las Capuchinas
This convent is relatively small and was limited to 25 nuns. Unlike other convents in the city, the nuns admitted were not required to pay an admission fee (dowry).
Upon entering, nuns were required to renounce all material possessions and agree to live a relatively harsh, cloistered life. Poverty was assured, as they were required to live off donations. Fasting was a requirement as much as it was a forced choice. This is an interesting contrast to the many lavish weddings and receptions that are now held here almost every weekend.
The nuns were famous in town for their singing talent. In order to participate at services without being seen by the public, the nuns entered a special choir area, high above the church’s nave. They did so via a private door that was connected directly to the convent.
Entrance door to the choir area
Aided by a screen, they sang at every service. The convent was limited to 25 nuns.
View of the church nave from choir platform – the wooden door is the entrance to the church’s crypt, where residents were typically buried.
Las Capuchinas Is Abandoned
The convent was repaired after the 1751 earthquakes. When the city was abandoned in 1773, the Clarissine Nuns abandoned it and left for Guatemala City to build a new church. The nuns sold the complex in 1814. Its grounds were used to dry coffee beans and grow crops.
The beautiful grounds outside the convent
Wander around the peaceful ruins
The ruins are a great place to play hide-and-go-seek
Restoration of Las Capuchinas
Restoration work began in the mid-1950s. The fountain at the convent is the one that was previously at Santa Inés.
Today, Las Capuchinas houses the offices of Consejo Nacional para la Proteccion de La Antigua Guatemala (CNPAG), the organism tasked with the preservation and restoration of historical monuments and responsible for approving new developments and construction city-wide. Someone has to make sure the Wendy’s Restaurant across Parque Central is historically accurate.
Museo de Capuchinas
The convent has a permanent colonial-era art exhibit on the convent’s second floor. Photos are not allowed. If you’re interested in seeing pictures of the museum’s interior, you can visit CNPAG’s page here.
Be careful if you have young children, as there is no railing on a few sections on the second floor (see the courtyard photo at the beginning of this post).
Great views from the second floor
There are also a few interesting sculptures throughout – these are slowly being restored.
Weddings at Las Capuchinas
Antigua’s convent ruins and churches are very popular wedding venues and can often be booked months in advance. If you’d like to book your wedding at Las Capuchinas, it’s recommended you plan early, as this is one of the most requested venues in town – bookings are made a minimum of two months in advance. You can obtain contact info for CNPAG here.
Upon booking, you must also provide a deposit (Q4,000), which will be refundable eight working days after the event has passed. The deposit is not refundable if the event doesn’t take place.
The prices listed below are for the different venues within Capuchinas. These fees are in addition to the deposit and due at least three days before the event.
Capuchinas Cloister (roof) – Max Capacity: 250 – Cost: Q9,000
Capuchinas Church (roof) – Max Capacity: 200 – Cost: Q6,000
Capuchinas Garden (outdoors) – Max Capacity: 100 – Cost: Q6,000
Capuchinas Circular Tower (outdoors) – Max Capacity: 50 – Cost: Q6,000
The fee entitles you to use the reserved venue for a maximum of 5 (five) hours and the activities have to end by 11:00 pm. You can use the venue for an additional hour for a fee of Q3,000.
These fees are only for the use of the venue. If you need decorations, or you’re hosting your reception there, you’ll need the services of a local wedding planner – there are a few in town. Do your due diligence before signing a contract and speak to references that can answer questions about the services that will be provided by the planner.
Should the wedding planner/catering company need additional time to set up, you can book an additional hour prior to the event for Q500, provided you notify them at least 48 hours ahead of time.
If you’re not holding your event at Las Capuchinas, but would still like to have your wedding photos taken at the venue, you can visit during regular visiting hours. Permits for a photo shoot cost Q500.
Have you visited
Las Capuchinas yet?