From Kentucky to Solentiname

Letter to Pope Paul VI regarding the establishment of a religious community
Undated

Cardenal returned to Nicaragua in 1950 and continued to write and express his opinions on Nicaraguan society under the Somoza dynasty. His discontent with this reality in Nicaragua led him to be a vocal opponent of the ruling regime. This political interest and fervor would only increase in the decades to follow. Cardenal experienced a religious transformation after participating in the unsuccessful 1954 April Revolution in Managua. His seminary studies brought him under the guidance of Trappist monk Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, who helped Cardenal grow as a spiritualist, activist, and poet. Cardenal continued seminary studies in Mexico and Colombia, all the while publishing seminal works such as Hora 0, Epigramas, and Salmos. Cardenal’s ordination as a Catholic priest in 1965 proved to be a critical moment in his continued development as a religious leader and spiritualist. After discussions and guidance from Merton, Cardenal decided to return to Nicaragua and establish a spiritual community.

In 1966, Cardenal chose the Solentiname Islands, an archipelago in the south of Lake Nicaragua, as the site for a semi-monastic community of artists and peasants. He received many visitors as well as letters of interest and support during his time at Solentiname. Cardenal and community members created the Boletín de Nuestra Señora de Solentiname as a way to share their experiences and reflections with those outside of their community. The manuscript “Mi isla de Solentiname” is a reflective piece written by Cardenal.

The images in this section illustrate the spiritual, artistic, and community-oriented nature of life in this unique place. Solentiname would be fertile ground for artistic and poetic exploration as well as Cardenal’s development as a proponent of liberation theology. Cardenal’s trip to post-revolutionary Cuba in 1970 would have great impact on his ideology and influenced his subsequent teachings and the atmosphere in Solentiname.