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Los Hermanos

the Brotherhood behind the story

excerpt about my first book from the Santa Fe New Mexican Pasatiempo section by Casey Sanchez

With the recent release of her novel, El Hermano (Western Edge Press), Northern New Mexico writer Carmen Baca hopes to humanize the men of the lay religious order as everyday people who relish their roles as fathers, cousins, and brothers outside their spiritual yearnings. The group’s origins are rooted in the culture of early 19th-century New Mexico. Lacking access to a priest or a formal diocese because of their remote locales, the Catholic men of these rural communities met in moradas — religious spaces that resembled but were not considered formal Catholic churches — to worship and perform community work as a mutual aid society.

Los Penitentes: Witnesses to Faith and Culture

April 25, 2018

excerpt from Scott Duncan, assistant editor at Somos en escrito, the Latino Literary Online Magazine

El Hermano, a first novel by Carmen Baca, brings to life through the story of a young boy in late 1920s New Mexico, the wonder of Los Penitentes, who have been painted by rumor and misconstrued in fiction as backwards and brutal, as cult rather than a humble brotherhood of Catholic men. El Hermano could have been the story of my own great-grandfather, a Penitente brother who died a few years before I was born and thus I know as little of him as the brotherhood to which he belonged. Both the shed on the family ranch and the chapel he built down the road where perhaps he carried out some brotherhood rites still stand and have been objects for reflection on his life and Los Penitentes for me for many years.

The valleys and mountains where northern nuevomexicanos or hispanos live can be out of the way, sparsely populated areas. Due to this remoteness the Penitente Brotherhood arose out of necessity. When Mexico gained independence in 1821, the priests were recalled to Spain, and communities like this farthest colony of New Mexico were faced with a long journey to seek absolution of sin. There were already traditions of lay brotherhoods dedicated to saints (and it is said some of them in the New Mexican colony were covers for Crypto-Judaism).  

Men of the community took it upon themselves to absolve their own sins, so that they could address the sins of the community as well. Their activities included praying, procession, scourging and, at one time, electing a member to be crucified.