El Arco de Santa Catalina y su historia

The history of the arch began in the 17th century with an increase in the number of nuns living in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros (today known as La Antigua). The increase in nuns overflowed the capacity at the Convento de Concepción – which was the first and only convent at that time in the Kingdom of Goathemala.

This meant that more space was needed, so another location was sought. The City Government awarded a space two blocks north of the central plaza as a home for the new Convent of Santa Catalina Mártir (the Martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria). The lot had only a convent and a chapel; these were not large spaces and there was no room left for expansion. So, in order to be able to enlarge the religious community’s space, the properties of Juan de Alarcón and Francisco Contreras were purchased. These lots were located right in front of the convent, across the avenue.

Given that the nuns were cloistered and thus couldn’t be seen in public, several solutions for connecting the properties were proposed. There was talk of closing the avenue and also of digging a tunnel, but the most popular idea was to build an ingenious structure with a closed bridge – one without windows. With a footbridge, there was no need to close the avenue, so there would be no imposition on citizens’ freedom of movement. The construction took the form of a semi-circular arch, a design that was used in all of La Antigua’s baroque-inspired buildings.

Construction of the arch began in 1693, and when it was completed a year later, it connected the convent and chapel with the gardens and school which were on the other side of the avenue. For decoration, the arch had only a small niche in the center, and it has always been painted yellow because of the color’s religious significance.After the 1773 earthquakes, the arch again became important as a rehabilitated footbridge, thanks to refurbishments carried out in 1853 during the administration of mayor José María Palomo y Montúfar. Later, the small tower on top was built and the clock was mounted – both in 1890 – and with this, the picture that can be seen to this day was complete. (What you see today even includes the original French clock.)

 Photo and written by: Erick Reyes Andrade 

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