While making a pre-wedding visit in the past few days to see my familia política in the north of Spain, my mother-in-law told me about an old tradition to assure good weather the day of your wedding – making an offering of eggs to the nuns of the order of Santa Clara (or St Clare, in English). These nuns are known as the Clarisas in Spain, or the Poor Clares in the UK. These nuns live an especially austere life, with strict fasts and little communication with the outside world.
As I grew up outside of the Catholic tradition, a lot of the habits, customs, and rituals which surround it have a strong fascination for me. That was how I ended up, this past weekend, in the convent of the Clarisas in Santillana del Mar. What drew me in was the fact that these holy sisters, las Clarisas, are known for their baked goods – they sell a range of biscuits, cakes, and other sweet treats to the public in order to keep their convent finances healthy. Drawn in by the promise of sugar and mesmerised by the display of delicacies, I initially missed the marked doorbell that has to be rung in order to draw the nuns away from their inner sanctum. I thought perhaps they weren’t selling anything today as their shop hatch was firmly shut. It was only when Carlos asked if I didn’t want anything after all as I began to head out that I realised my mistake.
The Clarisas’ home
A street scene in Santillana del Mar
Flowers in the window, Santillana
Returning inside, I rang the bell…and waited. Nothing. I rang again, more insistently. A smiling young woman duly appeared behind the revolving hatch, and I hesitantly gave her my order (250g of the huellas de San Francisco – crunchy almond biscuits in the shape of St Francis’ footprints). She placed the packet inside the revolving counter, turned it towards me, and I removed my prize. I put the money in its place, and the nun revolved the hatch again to take it. She didn’t say a word – the Clarisas don’t, because they mostly live in silence.
Taking the biscuits home, I opened the packet to sample the nuns’ work, sharing them with my mother-in-law in front of the TV. It was then that she told me that couples who plan to marry take eggs to the Clarisas’ convent to ask the nuns to pray for good weather on the day of their wedding. The nuns use the eggs to make their cakes, naturally. As I’m marrying Carlos in the Scottish highlands and good weather is hardly assured – even in July – I naturally liked the idea of heavenly intercession to ensure a sunny nuptial afternoon.
Advertising the nuns’ wares
So my mother in law has promised to take two dozen eggs to the convent the week before our wedding. Curious to know more, I’ve been googling away but not come up with much – apparently St Clare is associated with good weather because her name means “clear”. It has also occurred to me that in Spanish, egg whites are called claras – no doubt due to their transparency, but I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory answer about the origins of the tradition. Still, Carlos’ family assures me that even the kings of Spain take eggs to the Clarisas before their weddings, and the tradition is pretty widely known throughout the country.
Equally, anyone who’s ever been married – or has helped plan a wedding, or has even just been to one – knows that they’re as much about ritual and tradition (and superstition) as they are about public declarations of love or making a legally binding commitment. So sending eggs to the Clarisas is just another one of many such rituals – but one I rather like for its whimsy as well as its practical element. We get good weather, the nuns get to make cake. Ideal.