La Popa Monastery, Cartagena, Colombia

La Popa translates into “stern hill” and this five hundred foot high mound, the highest point in Cartagena, reminded someone of the back end of a ship. The Augustinians built the monastery in 1607, commandeering the ground that had once been sacred to the Calamari Indians and from this vantage point, the church played a role in the defense of the city. We visited the chapel to the Virgin of Candelaria, the patron of the city. She is portrayed holding baby Jesus in one hand and holding a candle in the other. The Virgin of Candelaria was first worshipped in the Canary Islands and when transported to the Spanish colonies, she was readily adopted. The Caribe Africans upon converting to Catholicism conflated her with their own goddess, Yoruba. She is credited with saving the city from pirates and disease. On her feast day, February 2, she is dressed in a fancy gown and leads a candlelight procession down the hill into the city. Upon request, one can see the collection of these gowns. We spent time admiring the renovated courtyard enclosed by a two story loggia with gracefully curving Romanesque arches. An old well in the middle of the courtyard is surrounded by potted tropical plants and some of the most beautiful bougainvillea we have ever seen, thick roots with vibrant colors. Stepping to the edge to enjoy the panoramic view of the city below, I found a moment of silence. The air was mute, not carrying up the sounds of the city below, or music, or even the songs of birds. However, this is Cartagena and soon the stillness and tranquility was interrupted by the cries of the hawkers, senorita you buy, you look, where are you from?

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