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Penance on Maes Creek

 MAES CREEK, HUERFANO COUNTY — As Jose Antonio Lujan and his Indian wife homesteaded in the1870s on Maes Creek, some 25 miles northwest of Walsenburg, they were isolated from even the smallest town. With a shortage of Catholic churches and priests, it is likely Lujan brought the layman’s Penitente practices with him from his native New Mexico. With a long history in Europe, the practices of penance, especially during Holy Week, were carried into the New World’s southwest. The layman’s organization was much more than a set of religious practices. Much like lodge members among the Protestant groups, the brotherhood cared for the sick and dying, the widow and the orphan, and gave aid whenever needed. At least six moradas, or Penitente meeting houses, were built in the Gardner area of Huerfano County; one of these, St. Joseph’s morada, was along Maes Creek. St. Joseph’s morada still stands, but only one brother remains; the others have passed on and the younger ones are not as interested in keeping traditions alive. Moradas

often have three rooms: the meeting room, a kitchen, and a storage room, in an L shape. Penitente practices have often been exaggerated. The brotherhood still focuses on Holy week with penance, prayer, singing, and processions, but the brutal flogging and the tortured placing of a man tied to a cross is less emphasized. . According to Arthur Maes’s book, “From Santa Fe to Maes Creek,” the men would arrive at the morada on Tuesday evening to prepare and to pray, eating only two small meals a day for the week. Prayers were offered “for world peace, for the dead, for the living, for the people that are sick, for the children, and the dilemmas that prevail in our everyday life.” A second building not far away is the deposito, the place of the statues. Wednesday afternoon the men process from the morado, stop at a cross to pray, and bring the statue of the Virgin Mary and St. John. The brothers return to the morado for a 7 pm sermon. Now is the tinieblas, meaning the darkness, the moment of Jesus’ death. The darkness engulfs the morada as one by one the 15 candles are snuffed out, one after each verse of a hymn. Prayers and hymns in Spanish fill the morada, the matracas—wooden noise makers—fill the room with sound, signifying the end of the world and the sorrow of Jesus’ death. The wailing flutes add to the mournful atmosphere. Thursday afternoon brings more prayers and singing again at the deposito. The statue of Christ is brought to the morada, and the darkness of tinieblas resumes for half an hour.. Friday the rituals start earlier, at 11 am, at the deposito. The statues of Mary and St. John are carried to meet the statue of Jesus Christ along the way to Calvary. Locals gather for this procession and for the one hour of darkness. Veronicas, young girls of seven to 16, dressed in white similar to first communion dresses, join the procession. A Mother Veronica dressed in black, much like a nun, carries the Virgin Mary statue. Saturday morning brings, according to Arthur Maes, rejoicing as Christ has arisen and sorrowing Mary and John statues have reunited with Jesus Christ. The Penitentes pray for those who joined in the procession and for the women who provided the simple food and cleaned the morada and deposito. Information is from “Penitente Renaissance” by Ruben Archuleta and from “From Santa Fe to Maes Creek” by Arthur Maes and from the Vialpando family. The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society. For more info, check, email, or call 719-738-2840.