In New Mexico the Penitentes continue to play an important role in their communities. Seen in the photo above is a group of people gathering at a morada in northern New Mexico the week leading up to Easter. During Holy Week the Penitentes visit the different moradas (chapels). The men mark the ground with stones or crosses to make a form of a descanso (memorial). They periodically stop to pray and rest at these marked locations as they carry the maderos (large crosses).
Christianity is universally identified by the cross. In Spanish the cross is called cruz, derived from the Latin crux meaning an upright post crossed by a lateral piece of wood. There are places throughout New Mexico named for the cross including: Las Cruces in Doña Ana County, Santa Cruz in Río Arriba County, Camino de Cruz Blanca in Santa Fe County and Santa Cruz Lake in Los Alamos County. Cemeteries often surround the morada, which is considered holy ground. The photo at Ranchos de Taos features a morada and cemetery in 1972.
From the 16th century until the mid-19th century the Spanish people of New Mexico lived in isolatation. Spain was far away and so was the guiding hand of the Catholic church. With the growth of colonization these small communities began to establish themselves. Many of the villages were far away from the large a community church. Groups of men in these villages formed a religious brotherhood. Known as Los Hermanos Penitentes, the roots of the organization can be traced to the medieval cofradias of Spain. Today, the Penitentes continue to perform spiritual services at the moradas.