Friday, 18 October 2013

Madrid – Buying biscuits from the Cloistered nuns

Do you know who the Cloistered nuns are? They are Catholic nuns who live their whole life in a convent without seeing anybody from the outside. This is a very strict order and even though they were ‘popular’ in medieval times nowadays there are only three countries in Europe with convents, Spain, Italy and Poland. Here in Spain there are only 30 convents left. They don’t have any means of getting financial help except from what they make with their own hands. The sisters in the Monasterio de Corpus Christi in Madrid spend their lives praying and making cookies and biscuits.

I heard about them first on the free guided tour. We were taken to the door and the guide explained us who they are, what do they do and the peculiar process of getting the biscuits. On the next day I packed up my camera and my wallet then I was off to get some nun-made biccies.

The first challenge comes in finding the place. You have to start from the Plaza de Villa. On the left there’s a very narrow little road that has the shape of an elbow, that’s why it’s called the ‘Elbow Road’, or Calle Codo.

You have to keep walking until you come to a wooden door on your right.

The buzzer will be on you right. There are only two options: the top one rings for the nuns, the bottom for the monks. If you want to give a confession, you ring the monks, if you want biscuits, you ring the nuns. Simple.

There’s a camera up in the top left corner. When you press the buzzer, somebody will look at you through the camera and ask about your purpose.

 The conversation I had was this:
- What would you like? Sweets?
- Yes.
Even I could manage that.
Then the door (well, part of the door) opened and I had to duck to get inside.

I have to say the whole experience became a bit surreal. There was nobody inside and I stood there not quite knowing what to do for a while. Then I moved on, turned left and saw a man who waved at me. He was already in the process of buying something and was happy to help me, a poor helpless foreigner, out.

There was a list of sweets on the right with the prices included. I looked over them and had to realise that my Spanish sweet vocabulary is not up to scratch. Luckily the man seemed very helpful and told me that from the list only three kinds were available and he already had those out to show them to me.

In the wall in front of me there was a kind of wooden ‘revolving window’ or, as the Americans call it, ‘Lazy Susan’. On the other side of this I could hear a nun talking rapidly who seemed to get frustrated with not getting any response from us. The man told him to wait as there’s another customer. Then a third person arrived! We had to show her the available biscuits, too, and the poor nun on the other side really didn’t understand what’s going on. You have to understand, they are not allowed any contact with the outsiders. She gave us three boxes of biscuits and nothing really stopped us from just walking out with them without paying!
In the end I chose almond biscuits and put the box and the money in the window then pushed it around. After a minute the box came back with my change. I finally had my first ever nun-made biscuits!!

The heated conversation was still going on when I left, the nun’s voice getting more and more frustrated. I thanked the man for helping me out and left. I’m not sure how well would’ve I fared all by myself.

Here’s the box of biscuits! As soon as I got home we opened it and tried one. They were delicious!

I feel I was quite lucky in my quest as even though that there were three of us there in a short time frame to buy the products, people are not always so fortunate. Some people said that when they turned up they were told that the previous day nobody bought anything so that day they couldn’t buy the ingredients for making any more biscuits.

I am very happy that the free tours include this stop in their itinerary as this way more people know about the nuns and more of them buy from them. If you’re in Madrid, take the time to visit the convent as the experience is unique and the result is quite scrumptious.

There’s an actual shop on the other side of the monastery that sells sweets made by nuns from many different monasteries and there’s even an annual nun-made sweet market in Madrid in December called the Expoclausura! How sweet. 

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