Introduction: What Is the Life of a Hermit a la Caridad del Cobre Like?
The hermita is located high in the Andes Mountains of southwest Bolivia, at an elevation of 6,840 meters above sea level. Oil-rich and highly endemic as a result, the region is inhabited by families whose ancestors have lived in the area for hundreds of years.
Hermita de la Caridad del Cobre is a small monastery, founded in 1986 by the nuns of the Handmaids of the Most Holy Savior (Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre), based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre is a Marian devotion centered on a statue portraying Mary as the “Refuge of Sinners” that was donated to Bolivia by the Pope John Paul II in 1985 in honor of Bolivian miners.
It is a strict, contemplative monastery in the Dominican order, with an emphasis on human and spiritual formation. The community lives under vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. They pray together several times a day, attend church together daily and sing the Divine Office which includes the recitation of 150 psalms each week.
How Did She Become a Hermit of the Most Prestigious Order in Chile?
Born in 1771, Maria de la Visitacion Jimenez, also called “Nuestra Senora del Carmen”, was a native to the region. When she was still a child, her parents died and she left her home to live in the great city of Santiago. There, she met an old man who introduced himself as being Benito Arias Montano and identified himself as the Bishop of Santiago. This man would later be shown to be the monk Juan de la Caridad del Cobre, who was a declared hermit of the most prestigious order in Chile. It is believed that the bishop gave her an outfit and sent her away to be a nun to live among the Indians. She did so, only to find that it was too difficult and she returned to Santiago.
She then experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary, and it led her to take her vows as a nun. She then worked with the poor Indians, taking care of children, teaching them how to read and write in the hopes that they would become teachers themselves. She decided that it was important to defend their rights against the abuse they suffered under their priests and those who were abusing their power. This is why she took up arms against them.
She was arrested and put in prison, but she did not give up and instead continued to defend the rights of the Indians. She was then put to trial but was acquitted of all charges.
She founded the city of Villa Maria Del Triunfo.
Her Life’s Journey to Becoming a Nun
Nuestra Senora del Carmen traveled with the Bishop to Curicó, where they took refuge in the home of a friend of Juan de la Caridad. Later Nuestra Senora del Carmen met Padre Benito Gonzalez, who was then the head priest at the hospital in Santiago. He offered her a place to live where she could be safe from the Indians who might seek to take her life. Not long after that, Maria left the hospital where she had lived and went to live in the hermitage of Santa Cruz del Quemado.
One year later, after the Indians had raided the nearby town of La Serena and headed toward the hermitage, they found Nuestra Senora del Carmen changing her clothes and preparing to go out. She had been warned of this threat. The Indians were killed or captured before they could reach the hermitage.
On December 17, 1694 a new priest arrived in Santa Cruz del Quemado. He was Padre Benito Gonzalez. He wanted to go to the hermitage, but Nuestra Senora del Carmen told him she would not leave the hermitage before having a priest in it. Padre Benito Gonzalez said he would be there the next day.
The next morning, Padre Benito Gonzalez was there and Nuestra Senora del Carmen welcomed him into the hermitage. She prepared a cell for him and they began their life as co-workers. From that day forward, Padre Benito Gonzalez lived at the hermitage in Santa Cruz del Quemado.
How Did their Family and Community Reject Her?
Unfortunately, one day Nuestra Senora del Carmen left the hermitage and was captured by the Indians. She was taken to a cave where she would spend many years of confinement. Meanwhile, Juan de la Caridad became sick and left his hermitage to tend to him in Pucará. There, Nuestra Senora del Carmen again met Juan de la Caridad who advised her on how soon she could leave the cave in which she had been living. He also made her promise to keep herself safe from the Indians and that she would return to her hermitage in Quemado to stay. She promised to do so and she made her way back to her hermitage.
What Were the Challenges She Faced in Realizing Her Dream of Becoming an Hermits De la Caridad del Cobre?
Maria de la Visitacion Jimenez suffered many illnesses while she was imprisoned in the cave. She became quite sick and was unable to fulfill her promise to Juan de la Caridad of living in peace with the Indians. During this time, as Nuestra Senora del Carmen suffered in her confinement, her own mother had passed away. As Nuestra Senora del Carmen would not leave the cave, her mother’s soul had to wait for her until she could be set free. When Juan de la Caridad came to visit his sister, he recovered Nuestra Senora del Carmen and took her to live in the cave with him.