It was March 29th, Maundy Thursday in fact, when I contacted Angelo. Angelo, you see, is "un Hermano Penitente", a penitent brother of an order of pious men whose legacy stretches back to medieval Spain. As part of my research for a story, I had contacted Angelo about his brotherhood. Los Penitentes are very private, preferring to practice their rites in isolation in a windowless adobe building they call "La Morada". However, once a year, on Good Friday during Holy Week, they perform a public ceremony- Las Tinieblas, the Tenebrae, meaning darkness, commemorating to moment Christ died on the cross, when the world shook, the temple veil was riven, and the dead walked. Angelo had told me this and on a whim, one day before Good Friday, I decided to set out on the 11 hour drive for the Northern mountains of New Mexico to witness this for myself.
"La Tierra de los Santos" © Tim Stevens 2018
My experience with Los Penitentes was incredible and harrowing. When you see these things in movies or read about them in books then take on a level of unreality, of fantasy. To witness that level of ritualistic, devout worship in real life was to experience something so real, so visceral, and core-shaking, I was not completely prepared. Out of the respect for the privacy of the brothers, I'll mention no more. I'll say only that whatever you might have heard or read about these pious men, it is likely true.
"El Santuario de Chimayo" © Tim Stevens 2018
The day after, on the suggestion of someone I met at Las Tinieblas, I visited the sacred site, El Santurario de Chimayo. It is a church of adobe, built in 1816 by a Penitente by the name of Don Bernardo Abeyta. Today, more than 30,000 people from all over the world make a pilgrimage each year to the site, walking down the winding desert-mountain roads to enter the chapel and take with them "holy dirt" from a shallow hole in the sanctuary. For some this trip is penance for sins, for others it is to find healing, and others to pray for their beloved-dead that they might find peace in the Land Beyond.
For me, an outsider admittedly, I was moved in way it is hard to explain. This Land of Saints, Northwest of Santa Fe, seems like a place out of time where the faithful find reward, where the penitent find cleansing, where miracles are possible if you only believe.
"Sacred Dance" © Tim Stevens 2018
"El Santo Niño" © Tim Stevens 2018
Detail "El Santo Niño de Atocha" © Tim Stevens 2018
"Resurrección" © Tim Stevens 2018
"The Door to His Heart" © Tim Stevens 2018
"El Peregrino" © Tim Stevens 2018
"Nuestra Señora" © Tim Stevens 2018
"La Vía de Santa Cruz" © Tim Stevens 2018