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In Mexico, Holy Week penitents continue bloody 16th-century traditions of absolution

A penitent who is both a Flagelente and an Encruzado processes through Taxco, Mexico, during annual Holy Week festivities that go back centuries. Some bundles of blackberry stems can weigh more than 100 pounds. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

TAXCO, Mexico (RNS) — The celebration of Holy Week in this colonial town southwest of Mexico City is one of the most dramatic and shocking in the country. During Holy Week, ten processions, each more solemn than the last as the week progresses, are carried out by three religious brotherhoods: Animas, Encruzados and Flagelentes.

Encruzado penitents processed through the streets of Taxco, Mexico, during Holy Week. Temperatures reached 90 degrees as the penitents walked barefoot over hot cobblestones. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

Taxco’s Holy Week traditions, blending self-penitence brought by Spanish conquistadors and Aztec blood rituals, date back to the early 1600s and have remained largely unchanged.

An Animas procession through Taxco, Mexico. Animas is the only penitent organization that allows females. Penitents carry crucifixes, drag chains and walk bent over facing the ground. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

The brotherhood of the Flagelentes accompanies the procession of the Christs on the evening of Holy Thursday. Each Flagelente carries a cross and a whip with which they flagellate themselves on the way. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

An Encruzado kneels during a Holy Week procession in Taxco, Mexico. The Encruzados, exclusively male, carry bundles of thorny blackberry stems on their backs. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

The town of Taxco in southern Mexico. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

The Encruzados prepare and train for the penitent act of carrying up to 100 pounds of blackberry stems, which resemble the horizontal beam of a cross, for up to a year in advance.

An Animas penitent is followed by Encruzados during the Good Friday procession through Taxco, Mexico. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

A Flagelente offers prayers in the church of San Nicolas Tolentino during Holy Week in Taxco. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

Animas penitents participate in a procession through Taxco, Mexico. Animas must walk in silence, carrying candles and dragging chains, while bent at the waist. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

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