Documentary heritage at risk: digitisation and enhancement of the archive of the Monastery of Dominican nuns of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile (EAP821)

Aims and objectives

This project will digitise and relocate the Archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa in Chile, one of the four oldest and most important archives of female writing of the country. Started in 1680 as a beguine convent and instituted as a monastery in 1754, the Dominican sisters were characterised by their cultural and intellectual life, reflected in these documents. 35,000 pages of hand written documents will be digitised, dating between 1700 and 1900.

The Archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa is currently temporarily located in the Library of the Universidad de los Andes, in Santiago de Chile, and is in a high-risk situation. The recent and surprising decision of the monastery's closing in Santiago led to an urgent operation by the team of researchers from the Universidad de los Andes, to salvage and guard this documentary repository to avoid its deterioration and eventual loss, dispersion or disappearance.

The documents include topics such as: books of accounts and commissary; income, investiture of religious habits, professions and dowries; elections of authorities; pastoral visits; donors and benefactors; legacies and bequests; censuses and chaplaincies; inventories of libraries; authorisations and dispensations; medical prescriptions, health, food and cookery recipes; spiritual reflections; resolutions; chronicles, autobiographical and biographical writings and correspondence; obituaries.

The availability of this archive for future investigations will deepen key issues of the regional history such as the mestizo identity of the southern Andes, gender, heritage, devotional practices, social networking and education. The founder of this female Order, Santa Rosa de Lima, was declared the first American saint in 1672, and was subsequently appointed Patron Saint and protector of America. She promoted with her charisma a monastic model of female formation, based on the balance between the intellectual culture - achieved through pious and informative readings; the development of manual skills such as gardening, cooking and pastry making, embroidery; and artistic development in music, singing, poetry, painting and illustration, among other arts. This model also spread beyond the monastic walls and was replicated in civil society, not only in the elites, but in other groups, through the hierarchies established in each monastery and their economic, political, social and cultural networks.

It should be noted that one of the documents within this archive is of great value: an original handwritten letter of Santa Rosa de Lima, sent to her mother in around 1617. Unfortunately this is in very bad condition, waiting for possible restoration and subsequent digitisation. This document provides a particular meaning to the archive, since it constitutes a vital link with the origins of the Order in Latin America.

After digitisation, the manuscripts will be transferred to the Monastery of Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Maule. This will include packaging of documents with paper and acid-free cardboard, storage in suitable containers, shipping and installation of the collection, and training to the religious personnel responsible for the archive about the use and conservation of the original manuscripts, and of the corresponding digital copy.

In order to publicise the documents, there will be a launch at the Universidad de los Andes and articles will be published in the written national press. A specialist article will be published in the journal Conserva, of the Centre for Conservation and Restoration of Chile.

The digital copies will be available for consultation at the British Library, the Library of the Monastery of Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Maule, and the Library of the Universidad de Los Andes.


The project digitised a wide range of documents dating from between 1700-1900 of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, one of the four oldest and most important archives of female writing of Chile. It is a unique set of documents as the testimonies of women from this period have been preserved in few other places in Chile. Among the files are valuable diaries and autobiographies such as that of Dolores Peña y Lillo, which highlights the features of regional and local female idiosyncrasies. These documents are a great resource for scholars and contribute to research, study and dissemination of the model of female education at that time, based on the intellectual culture, crafts and arts. The project team digitised 107 volumes in total consisting of over 27,000 images.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: