Colorado from Denver today included Los Penintentes, a religious tradition with a presence of two centuries in the state, as part of its official history through an exhibition and a video.
Both highlight the history of this tradition, typical of the religious rites of Holy Week in Spain and Latin American nations in southern Colorado and New Mexico.
The project, carried out in collaboration with the Museum of the Americas, also in Denver, is the culmination of the work of educator Antonio Esquibel, genealogy expert Manuel Salazar and documentary producer on the history of Mexican Americans Rick Vigil.
It is an exhibition “extra special because of the rarity of its artifacts and the opportunity to listen to penitent practitioners of the present,” explained Victoria Page González, spokeswoman for the Museum of the Americas.
The filmmakers of “Spirituality and its People in the San Luis Valley,” a 23-minute video included interviews with “penitent” elders, or “older brothers” like Max Taylor and Charlie Martinez, with images of some of his public ceremonies .
They pointed out that the purpose was to offer “a unique point of view” about this group, not focused on revealing their “secrets”, but on documenting the present presence and the historical continuity of the penitents from their formation more than two centuries to the present .
Although popularly called Los Penitentes, the official name of the group is The Pious Fraternity of Our Father Jesus Nazareno, a “secret society,” with private rituals, composed mostly of Spanish-speaking Catholic men from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
Its exact origins remain a matter of debate, but it is clear that the group originated in New Mexico in the second half of the 18th century (perhaps because of a lack of sufficient priests) and moved to Colorado in the early years of the 19th century, when that territory Still belonged to Mexico.
Then, for one hundred years, from 1848 until the mid-20th century, penitents remained active in many cities of Colorado, acting as a religious group and as a social and cultural fraternity.
Since then, their numbers have declined considerably, although it is believed that 1,500 penitents still practice their beliefs in the south of the state.
In the video, the “big brother” Martínez explains that for 52 years he has been director of a “lodging” (meeting center) in San Antonio, where every year, during Easter time, a “meeting” Simultaneous pilgrimages of parishioners, some departing from the abode with an image of Jesus, and others from the church with an image of the Virgin Mary.
That is why, for Martinez, to be a penitent is “a sacred commitment for life.”