La Misión de Fray Diego is an antique 17th C. mansion, restored and converted into a charming, exquisite boutique hotel in Merida Yucatan.
Around 400 years ago, it it was part of the Monjas church (Nuestra Señora de la Consolación), which today backs onto the hotel. The convent was completed on June 22, 1596, and today it serves as a chapel. Since the second half of the 20th C., it lost a great deal of its structure, and fell into the hands of private hacienda owners or the government. The Conceptionist nuns managed the cloisters until October 12, 1867, when they were expelled by General Manuel Cepeda Peraza; today it is the Casa de la Cultura Municipal. At one point the convent occupied the entire block between Calles 61, 64, 63, and 66A.
The convent was built with private donations of cash or properties from individuals, ecclisiastics, and the novices, and was maintained with financial “dowries” from their families, as well as from the manufacture of items to sell including sweets, cookies, breads, fruits, etc. Among the churchgoers were lenders with very solid financial status. In the visiting room, a great number of commercial deals were made.
According to local lore, the reason the convent was built was because the son of the governor, Alvaro de Vozmediano, perished in a shipwreck enroute to Spain, and his fiancée, Carmita de Ordoñez, was so devastated thet she decided to devote her life to God, but there were no convents in Mérida at that time. So her father pushed the construction of the building forward. The urban nuns (with more relaxed cohabitation rules), in addition to their own religious duties, formed an education facility for girls and a shelter for elderly and invalid elder women.
In the colonial era, convents were much like cities, recreating the social scale of the world outside, where the nuns, pupils, widows, and their servants lived.
Novices joined the convent of their own accord, but they had to be legitimate children, come from a good family, be between 15-17 years of age and in good health, and pay the “dowry” fee, furnishings expenses, and the habit-taking ceremony fee.
There is a persistent myth in Mérida which has never been proven, that there was communication between the Monjas convent and the Cathedral through an underground passage, so that the cloistered nuns would not have contact with the outside world. In the town of Maní, 100 km from Mérida, it is even said that there was an underground passage from the San Miguel Árcangel church there that went all the way to Monjas in Mérida.