QUITO - A group of Ecuadoran nuns opened the doors of their convent to the outside world Saturday -- a first since the order arrived in the South American country 150 years ago.
The nuns of the Mothers of Augustine were expelled from Colombia in 1864 and subsequently settled in the center of Quito, where they have lived a secluded lifestyle ever since.
Currently, only seven nuns -- two of them octogenarians (in their 80s) -- live in the cloister surrounded by thick white walls and accessible by way of heavy wooden doors.
Now, at long last, they decided to give the public a glimpse to mark the 150th anniversary of their arrival in the Ecuadoran capital.
"It is the first time and the mothers believe it will be the last," Javier Cevallos, a foundation director who is organizing the tours, told AFP.
Only the head nun has contact with the outside world and an order from the bishop is required to enter the cloister, he added.
A guide clad in a XIX century attire gives explanations to visitors at the Madres Agustinas cloistered monastery. (AFP)
Here, visitors watch the chapel's altar at cloistered monastery. (AFP)
More than 1,500 people signed up for the unique opportunity on weekend.
The convent -- a quiet haven situated in the heart of Quito, a bustling city of 2.6 million -- features a large courtyard as well as a mural telling the story of how the nuns made it to Ecuador.
Long corridors with stone floors and worn railings lead to dark confessionals and a chapel. The tours ends at an old tower.
One of the visitors, retiree Angel Galarza, took his wife, children and grandchildren on the tour.
The 77-year-old recalled how he had the "privilege" of being allowed in the convent as a teenager.
"Nobody could talk to them," he said of the nuns, adding that he only heard them when they sang in church.
"I could only see them when they went to mass," he told AFP.
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Nuns go public for first time in 150 years