The walls of the Santa Clara Convent separate the world from one of the oldest religious orders in Madeira. This convent was founded in 1496 by João Gonçalves de Câmara, Zarco’s (discoverer of the island) grandchild. Dona Isabella, Zarco's granddaughter, was its first Abbess. She established an aristocratic tradition which ensured the wealth of the convent. After her, many wealthy families’ daughters were forced to take "vows" when they were of age. It was such vows that supposedly provided spiritual benefits to them and their families.
The Convent of Santa Clara was rebuilt in the seventeenth century over the foundation of a fifteenth century chapel, where the remains of the first three governors of Madeira are believed to be buried. It includes a courtyard and a chapel, which exhibits an array of spectacular paintings, sculptures and tiles.
In 1566, French pirates under the command of Bertrand Montluc pillaged the city of Funchal for fourteen days. The nuns had to abandon the Convent and took refuge in Curral das Freiras, or Nuns' Valley, taking with them a "monstrance", which in Roman Catholicism refers to an open or transparent receptacle adorned with precious stones in which the consecrated Host is displayed for veneration.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century there were about seventy nuns. By the seventeenth century that number rose to one hundred and thirty.
In 1896, the state handed the Convent over to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, which opened its doors for worship, as well as to shelter the poor.
Nowadays, the nuns run a kindergarten. It is possible to book guided tours to visit the convent,
The Convent of Santa Clara is classified as a National Monument.
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday, 10:00 - 12:00 / 15:00 - 17:00
Closed: Sunday and Public Holidays
Contact: Calçada de Santa Clara 15, 9000-036 Funchal / 291 742 602