Investigation Report

Location: Penitente Chapel Ruins, Canadian River Canyon, NM
Date: 18 November 2001
Weather Conditions: Cloudy, rain on previous day
Humidity: 48%
Geomagnetic Storm Activity: Quiet
Temperature: 33
Number of Photos taken: 347
Number with possible targets:
Average EM Readings: 8nt @ 27Hz
Average M fields Readings: 1nt
Average E Field Readings: 0
Cold Spots detected: None
Hot Spots Detected: None
Olfactory Phenomena: None
Visual Phenomena: None
Type of Investigation: Ghost Hunt

All information and photos Copyright 2006 by Cody Polston, Bob Carter and SGHA. All Rights Reserved.

Location Description and History

Los Hermanos Penitentes
(The Penitent Brothers), a society of flagellants existing among the Spanish of New Mexico and Colorado.

(1) Practices
The Hermanos Penitentes are a society of individuals, who, to atone for their sins, practice penance's which consist principally of flagellation, carrying heavy crosses, binding the body to a cross, and tying the limbs to hinder the circulation of the blood. These practices have prevailed in Colorado and New Mexico since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Up to the year 1890, they were public; at present they are secret, though not strictly.

The Hermanos Penitentes are men; in the latter half of the nineteenth century they admitted women and children into separate organizations, which, however, were never numerous. The society had no general organization or supreme authority. Each fraternity is local and independent with its own officers. The chief officer, hermano mayor (elder brother), has absolute authority, and as a rule holds office during life. The other officers are the like as those of most secret societies: chaplain, sergeant-at-arms, etc. The ceremony of the initiation, which takes place during Holy Week, is simple, excepting the final test.

The candidate is escorted to the morada (abode), the home, or council house, by two or more Penitentes where, after a series of questions and answers consisting in the main of prayer he is admitted. He then undergoes various humiliations. First, he washes the feet of all present, kneeling before each; then he recites a long prayer, asking pardon for any offense he may have given. If any one present has been offended by the candidate, he lashes the offender on the bare back. Then comes the last and crucial test: four or six incisions, in the shape of a cross, are made just below the shoulders of the candidate with a piece of flint.

Flagellation, formerly practiced in the streets and in the churches, is now, since the American occupation, confined generally to the morada and performed with a short whip (disciplina), made from the leaf of the amole weed. Fifty years ago the Hermanos Penitentes would issue from their morada (in some places as Taos, N. M., three hundred strong), stripped to the waist and scourging themselves, led by the acompanadores (escorts), and preceded by a few Penitentes dragging heavy crosses (maderos); the procession was accompanied by a throng, singing Christian hymns. A wooden wagon (el carro de la muerte) bore a figure representing death and pointing forward an arrow with stretched bow. This procession went through the streets to the church, where the Penitentes prayed, continued their scourgings, returned in procession to the morada. 

Other modes of self castigation were often resorted to; on Good Friday it was the custom to bind one of the brethren to a cross, as in a crucifixion. At present no "crucifixions" take place, though previous to 1896 they were annual in many places in New Mexico and Colorado. The Penitentes now confine themselves to secret flagellation and occasional visits to churches at night. Flagellation is also practiced at the death of a Penitente or of a relative. The corpse is taken to the morada and kept there for a few hours; flagellation takes place at the morada and during the procession to and from the same.

(2) Origin and History
Flagellation was introduced into Latin America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though no actual records are found of any organized flagellant societies there until comparatively recent times. In some localities of Mexico, Central, and South America, flagellant organizations, more or less public in their practices, existed until very recently, and still exist in a few isolated places. All these later organizations were regulated and controlled by Leo XIII. The origin of the New Mexican flagellants or Hermanos penitentes is uncertain, but they seem to have been an outgrowth of the Third Order of St. Francis, introduced by Franciscans in the seventeenth century.

Their practices consisted principally in flagellation, without incisions and with no loss of blood, carrying small crosses, and marching in processions with bare feet to visit the churches and join in long prayers. The barbarous customs of the New Mexico Penitents are of a much later origin.

The New Mexican flagellants call their society, "Los hermanos penitentes de la tercer orden de San Francisco," and we know that when the last organization came into prominence in the early part of the nineteenth century, the older organization no longer existed in New Mexico.

When their practices reached their worst stage (about 1850-90), the attention of the Church was directed towards them. The society was then very strong among all classes and the ecclesiastical authorities decided to use leniency. In a circular letter to the Penitentes of New Mexico and Colorado in 1886, Archbishop Salpointe of Santa Fe ordered them in the name of the Church to abolish flagellation, and the carrying of the heavy crosses, and sent to the different hermanos mayores copies of the rules of the Third Order of St. Francis, advising them to reorganize in accordance therewith. His letter and orders were unheeded.

He then ordered all the parish priests to see the Penitentes personally and induce them to follow his instructions, but they accomplished nothing. To make matters worse, a Protestant paper, "La hermandad", was published at Pueblo, Colorado, in 1889, which incited the Penitents to resist the Church and follow their own practices. Archbishop Salpointe, in a circular letter of 1889, then ordered the Penitentes to disband. As a result the society, though not abolished, was very much weakened, and its further growth prevented.

In spite of the fact that the Catholic Church drove the brotherhood underground in the 1880’s, Penitentes were a powerful influence in the communities of the San Luis Valley until about 1920. Although the Penitentes were politically active, their real power resulted from the responsible roles they fulfilled in their communities.

They took care of spiritual functions, provided charity and watched over the economic needs of people in their communities. Widows, for example, received contributions of food, firewood, and money if necessary. Orphans were adopted. The sick received care. The members’ roles were clearly defined and dutifully accepted.

By the late 1940’s, when the Catholic Church lifted its ban on participation in the brotherhood, membership had fallen off  dramatically. Then, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, activity resumed. However, most of the members were middle-aged or elderly men whose activities consisted of meeting for prayers during Holy Week and walking in occasional processions. By the 1990’s only about a half dozen active moradas existed in the valley and membership had become vastly reduced. The old adobe moradas, once so mysterious and steeped in spirituality, toppled inward.

Although life has clearly changed in the valley, anyone that understands the valley and it’s people will tell of the influence of the Penitentes. While there may only be a few remaining in the brotherhood today, the community traditions and practices established by members in the past, remain a part of the foundation of Hispanic culture in the valley today.

Reported Phenomena

The ruins of a Penitente chapel stand on the northern edge of the Canadian river canyon, some 40 miles east of Wagon Mound New Mexico. It has been reported that shadows have been seen darting across trees and rocks. Unnerving feelings can be easily sensed that seem to emulate from the area near the old chapel and sometimes disembodied voices are heard. No one has ever been out there at night.

The Investigation

We started the investigation just after dusk. The first hour was uneventful but soon afterwards we began picking up odd DC EM signals. We measured several of these but they soon vanished just as quickly as they appeared. These signals are rather odd because this location is literally out in the middle of nowhere. The nearest powerline is 10 miles away and if this phenomena is naturally occurring, it should be fairly consistent. there were a few oddities captured on film while the signals were present but they could be explainable.

Recorded Frequencies and Strength

12 Hz @ 8nt
15 Hz @ 9nt
22 Hz @ 5nt
20 Hz @ 5nt
13Hz @ 8nt
17Hz @ 7nt


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Parting Shot (humor)

Hitman imitates a contestant from MTV's FEAR

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