Penitentes [key], secret lay order in the U.S. Southwest, particularly New Mexico, noted for flagellating rites during Holy Week. It arose from the third order of the Franciscans and is sometimes called Los Hermanos Penitentes del Tercer Orden de Franciscanos. Although condemned in 1889 by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe, Penitente customs have persisted in modified form in many of the small villages of New Mexico. Until recently, the annual ceremony involved the carrying of heavy wooden crosses by penitents, who were beaten by heavy cord. On Good Friday the rites culminated with a crucifixion. Penitente rites have been observed by very few outsiders, and the secrecy of the order prevents confirmation or detailed description of any present activities.
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