About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Penitentes

The SF Chronicle recently ran a "reflective" essay in which a person "discovers" Santa Muerte and gives us his oh-so profound final shot: "We are Mexicans, and our affinity for Death runs deeper than hope." The first comment from a reader? "Whatever dude."

Americans - of whatever ethnic stripe - have been getting their kicks off of the "salacious details" of Latin American religion for some time. From colonial-era tales of the cruelty of Spanish priests to the skinny chick Santa Muerte, the English-speaking world likes to focus on the "exotic" religion of Latin America (wow, how many more quotes can I use in this selection). There is even a new film out with Simon Baker called Not Forgotten that includes - ahem - the "bloody" rites of the Santa Muerte. Gag.

Just for fun, I thought I'd highlight a previous obsession U.S. Americans used to have with another aspect of Latino religion, the Penitentes Brotherhood of New Mexico. Centered around flagellation that was introduced to New Mexico by the Third Order of St. Francis in the seventeenth century, the Penitentes started out as a public organization but by the arrival of the U.S. in the area they had most certainly gone underground. And of course, like any religious practice that is supposed to be personal, private, and sacred, the media got right on to "exposing" the rituals of the Penitentes which include mock crucifixion.

Famed writer Charles Lummis wrote an article for Cosmopolitan in 1889 with engraings based on his photographs of the mock crucifixion and whipping. Writer Carl Taylor was allegedly murdered by his house boy for an article he published in Today on the topic, or so said Time magazine in 1936. '36 was a busy year for the Penitentes as that year marked the introduction of Roland C. Price and Harry J. Revier's explotation mash-up of documentary footage and S&M studio footage called Lash of the Penitentes. Some how this film didn't make it into Helen Delpar's book The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican.

Anyway, the a fun YouTube clip is included below. I hope you enjoy the campy trash ... um ... trailer (trailer trash?).

FYI - For more info on the Penitentes, see Marth Weigle's 2007 A Penitente Bibliography. The drawing is by Santa Fe artist Will Shuster.

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