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The burnt skeleton in the Church

The Burnt Skeleton in the Convent

A love tale from Cajamarca - Perú


Many years ago, a Peruvian family, with wealth inherited from its conquistador ancestors, founded the church of Nuestra Senora de los Dolores. They decided it that one woman of the family should always take the veil and devote her life to serving as the abbess of the convent.

Years passed, and the convent prospered, its sisters devoting themselves to the worship of God and the carrying out of charitable works among the poor. Finally, the family which founded the convent was reduced to two brothers and a sister. The older brother was a layman, the younger a bishop of the church. The older brother was a widower; his family comprised two children, a son and a daughter. The sister was, under the family custom, the abbess of the convent.

Now the abbess was growing old and fearing that she would not long survive, they decided it that the daughter should enter the convent to prepare to succeed her aunt. The girl believed that the religious life was not her vocation. She did not wish to enter the convent. Family custom decreed, however, that her personal inclination could not be humored, and so she entered the convent. Her aunt, the abbess, sympathized with her, made the girl’s duties as light as possible. In time, the abbess fell ill. They suggested they should consult a Scotch physician who had recently moved to the town in which the convent was located.

The abbess refused to see the doctor, and it was decided that the niece, closely veiled, should meet him in an anteroom and describe the symptoms, so that remedies could be suggested. The physician asked the niece whether she could count the pulse. “No,” she replied timidly. “Put your fingers on my wrist,” said the physician, “and I shall teach you how.” The niece did as requested, left to count the abbess’ pulse, and then returned to the doctor with the desired information. He decided the abbess was suffering from cancer.

The doctor continued to meet the niece in the convent's anteroom—he to prescribe remedies, she to tell him of the progress of the patient’s illness. And then (as we have been expecting all along) the doctor and the young sister fell in love. He urged her to flee the convent, to marry him. She was torn between the duty imposed upon her by her vows and her love of the man. Finally she consented to go with him.

The doctor brought a skeleton from the hospital. With the help of the laundress, whom he had enlisted in his cause, took the skeleton to the girl’s cell in a laundry basket. The young sister placed the skeleton in her bed, set fire to the blankets, and in the resulting confusion, escaped from the convent. The charred bones of the skeleton were mistaken for the remains of her own body, and they mourned her as dead.

The doctor begged the girl to go with him to the coast, where they could be married without being detected by their friends. She first insisted on obtaining the forgiveness of her relatives, and when night fell, she crept into the palace of her uncle; the bishop threw herself on her knees before him and begged for protection. When she told him the story of her love, the bishop attempted to cast her from him. But she still clung to him, and finally he listened. Then, “Wait a moment,” he said, and left the room.

Shortly he returned with a bag containing the family jewels. “Fly with your lover,” he said. The man and the girl escaped to the coast and boarded an English frigate where they were married by the chaplain. They fled to England, where, years after, they were found by the girl’s brother, to whom the bishop had revealed the secret. The girl was finally forgiven by others in her family beside the bishop, and her descendants, accepted by their Peruvian kinsfolk, are said to be now living in Peru, and they still possess the family jewels which the girl carried with her on her flight to the coast.

Background information:

The original text was naming the “Convento Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores” as location of this tale. Researching this, we located a “Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores” that is in the city of Cajamarca (Northern Peru). The church is next to the imposing Church of San Francisco and houses in its interior what we consider the most venerated Marian image by the people of Cajamarca: The Virgen de los Dolores, patron saint of the region.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores

The Church of Nuestra Senora de los Dolores can be seen in this picture to the right of the Church of San Francisco.

The catacombs found in this church were discovered sixty years ago, during repair works for the San Francisco church. It was possible to identify that they were of Colonial origin, and that one of the oldest characters who were buried in them was Patricio de Astopilco, who in life was a chief of the area and whose remains remained in the area. place since 1787.

Whoever wants to know this Church, has to go to the Plaza de Armas de Cajamarca, the Chapel of Our Lady of Los Dolores, it is next to the Church of San Francisco.

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