I just saw a travel show on the Philippines, they showed a town where on Holy Week, the villagers recreated the crucifxion of Christ. It wasn’t too gory, they just tied the guy up on the cross-and he didn’t have to stay up too long. This stirred my memory-many years ago, I visited northern New Mexico, and visited a local church in the village of Taos. The local priest told me about this rather obscure group (the Penitentes) who did re-enact the crucifixion. This went on into the 1940’s-is this rite still practiced in N. mexico?
I have heard of such things happening in Mexico, but not in New Mexico. Still, New Mexico does have its odd religious practices, including the annual pilgrimage to Chimayo. I lived on one road to the church there, and OY did the roads get clogged with walking pilgrims. Some make the walk from Albuquerque (100 miles, give or take) or even farther.
Los Hermanos Penitentes were active in New Mexico at least until the 1970’s and presumably still are unless they have been exterminated. You don’t easily suppress that level of religious superstition. Growing up in N.M. in the 50’s there were many Penitente crosses visible from the highway which would give us kids a chance to discuss their lurid deeds. It would always give us the creeps. In the late 60’s I met a guy who had written a book about them. He pointed out something we as kids had never noticed. We would always see a white cross on the hillside. But if you would across the valley where the cross was located, you would see a black cross in the distance which marked, according to the author, a Penitente graveyard. That made it even creepier. The Penitentes practice flagellation - self whipping, and did practice curcifixion, although the Catholic church attempted to abolish the practice in 1889. That only drove it into secrecy. The ceremonies have been witnessed by outsiders, as I hve said, as late as the 70’s.
“The penitentes emerged as a result of a shortage of priests. Penitente rites were practiced mostly during the Lenten season. Vestiges of the penitente rites are occasionally practiced in the mountain areas of the Sangre de Cristos. The ceremonial building for the penitent brotherhood is called the morada. Originally started during Onate’s time of office, some rural people who didn’t have a minister, had organized religious brotherhoods of laymen. They called themselves penitentes and flogged themselves and also conducted mock crucifixions. Archbishop Lamy attempted to stop the penitentes in the mid-19th century. Currently, the penitente worship is accepted by the church provide the zealous actions of the original brotherhood does not occur.”
Considering that penitente worship, minus the bloody bits, is accepted by the church it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that it still goes on in a secretive fashion. There seem to be several books available on the subject including one written by a grandaughter of a practicing penitente.
Thanks for the info. I was skiing at Taos aound 1979, and got friendly with one of the instructors. He told me lots of stuff about Holy Week in Northern NM-he actually witnessed a procession of hooded men carrying a coffin! He asked his landlady about it, and she wouldn’t say anything-even afetr 5 years, he was still an outsider. The people of NM are great, but there are certain things they just don’t talk about.
Yep, they’re still around. I know a man who belongs to a penitente sect. And the pilgrims are on the road now, carrying their crosses from Albuquerque to Chimayo. I saw them yesterday while driving to Santa Fe.
They also perform this reenactment in Brugge, Belgium. The entire town celebrates.
I, uh, was nowhere near your neighborhood - Campbell Scott,Singles
We need a guick bump on this topic even though it’s been fairly well ignored. This weekend two high school students were found murdered on the pilgrimage trail to Chimayo. Shot dead. Anybody hear any more than that?
You wonder if the “penitentes” still exist and why they are secretive? First of all, yes they do. However, many like you and those who have posted on this discussion, and your lack of knowledge (ignorance) about this society have pressured them into being reclusive – yes even in some cases to the point where some wonder if they even still exist.
Wouldn’t you be secretive and reclusive if you belonged to a prayerful and religious society of lay men that was called “odd”, “creepy”, or “superstitious”. Those of you who posted these comments criticize what you do not understand. Are we not constantly faced with other cultures and religions that are not our own, which strike us as different or even strange? Yet, is it fair and just for us to put down what we do not understand? I don’t think so.
Your culture or religion may call for you to things that are different from my beliefs, but who am I to say you are odd, creepy, or superstitious if this is what you believe is right and true, if that’s what makes you a better person, and your community a better place to live.
I am amazed by people who think that someone who walks over hot coals or can hold there breath beyond what a normal person can as religiously chic, but not as odd, crazy, superstitious, etc. Yet, if someone practices flagellation or other similar practices they are called out. If this is the case, then tattooing and piercing should be banned in our society as well. But, of course, we will not because in free societies we have freedom of religion and of expression.
As long as these societies are not hurting anyone, or involuntary hurting themselves, then why should we care. I know that these brothers, “hermanos”, not “penitentes” as you call them, (which is sometimes considered a derogatory term, especially when used by non-members) are a prayerful, loving, and sometimes even sometimes inviting society of men – as long as those who attend their rituals do so with respect. Can you believe that they even pray for those of you who do not believe – that you be blessed with brotherly/sisterly love, that you be enlightened, that souls of your dearly departed rest in peace, and that you have a fruitful life and sacred death? Yes, I guess in this modern age that might seem odd, creepy, and superstitious to some.
Open your eyes, and do not try to remove the splinter from your brothers eye, before you remove the beam from yours.