"The penitent brothers"
Night Procession of the Penitentes, by William Penhallow Henderson
Public DomainNight Procession of the Penitentes, by William Penhallow Henderson - Credit: Southwest Crossroads

The penitent brothers (Los Hermanos Penitentes) was the name of a Christian sect of flagellants based in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, dating back to the early 19th century.

The focus of their ritual activity was Lent, when the Penitentes re-enacted the passion and death of Christ with acts of self-flaggelation and the carrying of heavy crosses (see bookmarks p.330 and p.331). Up to the year 1890, the flagellations of the Penitentes were public, but the order was forced into carrying out their rituals in secrecy following increasing pressure from church authorities to desist in the practice.

The Penitentes reconciled with the Church in the mid 20th century, receiving formal recognition in 1947. The current adherents now consider themselves to be members of the Third Order of St Francis.

 

Penitentes carrying crosses near Taos, New Mexico
Public DomainPenitentes carrying crosses near Taos, New Mexico - Credit: Library of Congress