This Date in History: The week before Easter is the holiest of seasons for Los Hermanos Penitentes. That is spanish for the Penitent Brothers which is a centuries old somewhat obscure group with roots that go back to the Spanish Conquistadors and Franciscan Missionaries and the strong Christians in medieval Europe. Some consider the group to be a cult.
The Penitentes generally subscribe to the notion that man is evil and that the only way to rid oneself of that evil is through punishment. In an effort to reach that goal, the Penitentes regard Good Friday as the most scared holiday with a bloody ritual that they developed from more subtle practices introduced to them by the Franciscans. Occasionally, the Franciscans were known to practice self-flagellation in order to purify ones soul. By 1800, the Penitentes formed an official fraternity complete with officers and a constitution. They first held their rituals in area churches but, when Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, remote villages were abandoned by the church. In those remote areas, the parishioners tried to maintain a sense of organized faith, in spite of the abscence of priests which led to a development of extreme practices. In 1833, the bishop of Durango, Mexico condemned the brotherhood and later in the 19th century, their ceremonies were banned completely from church grounds.
So, what is it that these folks did that caused such action? On this date in 1888, ethanologist and writer Charles F. Lummis became the first outsider to photograph the ceremony. Apparently, we’re lucky to have any photographs from his trip because Lummis was still learning how to use a camera in 1888. On the Thursday before Easter, Lummis witnessed a flute player leading a bunch of women in a slow procession. It was a painful procession since many of the women were handicapped by cactus stuffed tightly in their shoes. Behind the women came the brothers of blood. These poor souls had a dark bag over their head to protect them from the sin of vanity. They were not to gain any glory from their suffering. Each man wore a crown of thorns pressed deeply into their head. As these guys walked, they whipped themselves over their own backs with lashes studded with cactus and yucca. Behind them came three men, each carrying a heavy wooden cross. These guys couldn’t whip themselves so the Brothers of Light did the work. The Brothers of Light were the inner circle of the fraternity…the officers I suppose. Next was Good Friday.
Lummis could not believe his eyes when he witnessed a black hooded man with blood pouring from an open wound in his right side. He had volunteered to accept the honor of portraying Jesus. He begged for nails but too many of the men who played that part died after getting nailed to the cross so he was just bound with ropes. But, that wasn’t easy. He was bound so tight, his arms turned black. Two other guys showed up with cactus in bundles strapped to their backs. The lay down at the foot of the cross and begged for rocks to be used to drive the cactus deeper into their flesh. These guys rolled around on the ground in agony for over 30 minutes. Watching over the whole ceremony was the Death Cart, which was a two wheeled wagon with a skeleton sitting in it clutching a bow and arrow, which was to symbolize sudden death.
Now, supposedly Penitentes’ ritual has eased up a bit. By the 1920′s, roads brought more access to their area and in 1947, the bishop of Santa Fe welcomed them as a “pious association of men joined in charity to commemorate the Passion and death of the Redeemer.” Trouble was, with the new roads and better modes of transportation in the 20th century, tourists and shutterbugs showed up in greater numbers. I suppose as part of the idea of avoiding the glorification of their suffering, the hoards of tourists simply drove the sect into deeper secrecy. Today, it is said that Los Hermanos Penitentes still are around Colorado and New Mexico, but no one really knows what they are up to. I have yet to find anything in the New Testament that would support the need for them to continue their practices…but, it’s a free country and one must admire their determination if nothing else. It may be hard to find any phonies in that fraternity…and certainly no frat boys.
Weather Bottom Line: Pretty lousy day, as expected for Sunday. Cloudy, windy…brisk and chilly. We’ll rebound to near 60 on Monday. Tuesday also will get to the low 60′s. A system will come through on Tuesday night bringing with it some rain and perhaps some thunderstorms. I wouldn’t get too worked up over it. Wednesday will be pretty good and there will be a good chance for rain with a chance for t’storms on late Thursday. Last time I checked, the GFS had backed off the idea of strong storms…but we’ll see what its up to as the week progresses. In general, temepratures will be chilly at night and mild during the afternoon all week. Now, this is a long way out and I’m talking about a system that is all the way across the Pacific in Japan at this time early Monday morning. But, there is some indication that that guy could be trouble in the midwest and possibly the Ohio Valley over next weekend. ..see the ECMWF above… I’ll keep up with it as things become more definitive.