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Convent of the Clarisas of San Diego

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The Convent of the Clarisas of San Diego is well known by the delicious  Almonds of Alcalá that are made in it. It is a unique building, located a few meters from the  University of Alcalá.

On the convent façade, whose principal architectonical feature is the simplicity of its lines, it stands out the image of San Diego de Alcalá, who was canonized by Sixto V in 1568. The figure holds a cross and miraculous flowers in his hands, though they are roughly visible due to its security metallic grilles. The Saint remains were removed from the silver urn they were kept in, into the Magisterial Church—current Magisterial Cathedral—and placed here to clean it in 1967.

The presence of the Cisneros Cardinal coat of arms is another important element to stand out within the main door. This presence is explained on account of the allocation of the University printing—founded by the Cardinal—inside the houses María Fernández, aunt of Catalina, gave to the school. Hence, historian has concluded that the famous Complutensian Polyglot Bible could be printed in there.

Outside, in the small square and before resuming your walk, you have the possibility of taking a sit on one of the stone benches and contemplating the bronze statue of Carrillo Archbishop, made by the sculptor Santiago de Santiago in 1987… while savoring some Almonds of Alcalá from the nuns.

The Convent of the Clarisas of San Diego was founded in 1671 by doña Catalina García Fernández. Catalina García was the youngest of five children, daughter of don Bartolomé García and doña Catalina Fernández. She was born in Santorcaz in 1639, and lost her mother that same year. Thus, her aunt, María Fernández—who lived in a house today part of the convent—took charge of her. Catalina García got married at the age of fifteen, had three children and widowed in 1662. Since that moment, she tried to join one of the three Alcalá’s Franciscan Convents; although, it was not until 1665 when she got into the Franciscan Convent with the habits of the Third Order of Penance, and chose the name of Catalina de Jesús y San Francisco. In 1671, a school for girls—named Doncellas Pobres de Santa Clara—was created in a part of the house that her aunt, María Fernández, had previously donated with that aim. Afterwards, the school was turned into a beguinage (reason why they are called beguines) and later, into the monastery that it is today.

Almonds of Alcalá

Almonds of Alcalá are Alcalá’s sweets par excellence, in addition to costrada and ring-shape pastries. Probably of Arabic origin, there are documentary evidences of its existence since eighteenth century, so they have been traditionally famous as Alcalá’s gastronomic ambassadors.

Almonds of Alcalá are made with almonds and toasted sugar syrup. It is a simple but exquisite recipe, used with expertise by the enclosed Convent of the Clarisas of San Diego, whose nuns are called “almonders”. The nuns of the Order of St Claire had worked as dressmakers from time immemorial, and are also known as “Diegas of Alcalá” by being their patron San Diego of Alcalá.

Turnstile and Glazed Tiles

If you are in Alcalá and fancy to get the delicious city’s souvenir in question, you just have to get closer to city center, to calle Beatas, on the corner of plaza de San Diego—where the University is situated. There, the Convent of the Clarisas of San Diego is placed, a modest building of plastered façade, in front of which Alonso de Carrillo archbishop’s statue is set.

Buying Almonds of Alcalá is a real ritual, in as much as you are purchasing in a convent versus a conventional shop. First, you should go through the wooden main door to access an anteroom covered of glazed tiles, there, a small window prevent from taking a sight of the inside. On top of it, a collection of samples is provided: all kind of chests, boxes and packages made of wood, cardboard or plastic, and also different sizes and weights are showed, with their correspondent prices.

Through the small window or turnstile—name this way because its swevelling—you will call the nuns and make your order, receive it and pay it, without seeing the face of the woman who is serving you, as she is an enclosed nun.

Buying Almonds of Alcalá from nuns is not only a commercial exchange but also a revival of the traditions of Alcalá’s convents, from such a peaceful square where you can enjoy the façade of the Cisnerian University.

 

The tourist says:

Almonds of Alcalá
Brian, Utah, USA.

Apart from the University of Alcalá and being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (the author of El ingenioso Don Quijote de la Mancha), Alcalá is also known for its almendras garrapiñadas. Glazed almonds.

Anyway, you can buy these from any shop in town. But the best ones are at the Convent of the Clarisas of San Diego, right next to the University.

These monjas (nuns) are cloistered (meaning they can’t have any contact with the outside world), so there is a super sneaky way to buy almonds from them. You go through a door into a small room. There is a bell and a kind of turntable window. You can’t see the other side of the window. You ring the bell and wait for the monja to get to the other side of the window. The password is “Ave María Purísima” (Hail Mary most pure). The monja replies “Sin pecado concebida” (Conceived without sin). Then you tell her which size box of almonds you want. You put the money on the turntable, then the monja turns it around and BAZINGA! There are your delicious almonds.

The nuns use the money to finance their convent. You get delicious almonds for dirt cheap. It’s a win-win situation. Also, God wants you to give monies to the convent. And you get delicious almonds for dirt cheap. So it’s a win-win-win.

To summarize: “Ave María Purísima” = delicious almonds.

 

Additional Information:

Useful information:

  • Address: Calle de las Beatas, 5
  • Tel:+34 918 88 03 05

 

Access from Madrid

  • Renfe Cercanías railroads C-1, C-2 and C7A.
  • Bus nº 223 (departure from Avenida de América Interchanger).

 

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