Los Penitentes

To provide some context for the following story it was collected from my grandfather on my mother’s side. He is currently 76 and the story he is telling was from when he was a young adult around the age of 21 while he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The story contains many allusions to Hispanic themes such as  s a “Penitente” which is a person who beats himself with a whip for his sins. The story was collected over a Skype call originally in Spanish which I have translated and recorded below. I will differentiate dialogue by using “A” for my grandfather and “B” for myself. Personally I am not sure what to make of the story. It definitely shows that the religious history of New Mexico really does play a role in our storytelling as you will soon read. I also do believe that whatever my grandfather saw that night was true because he was extremely genuine during the interview and was not too sure of what to make of it himself. The interview went as follows.

B: “So Grandpa what ghost story are you telling me today”

A: “I am going to tell you about the story of me and the Penitente.”

B: “Ok sounds interesting, go ahead and tell me the story.”

A: “It started back when I was teenager, a year or two after I graduated from High School. I had been working at a mechanic shop on Central Avenue and the owner was looking to promote me cause I had been working there for a few years. So in order to see if I was ready to handle the shop by myself he told me to go ahead and takeover as manager during the night shift the next day. Now to give a little bit of a history to what happened the next day, you have to understand that the road the shop lied on was said to be haunted. Many people claimed that a spirits of los Penitentes still roamed the streets. It was said that they used to walk the road up to the church whipping themselves everyday for hours this was back before the city became what it is today. Ok now back to my story….the next day I showed up around 5pm for the shift and the manager handed over his keys and told me good luck and specifically to make sure that I was the last person out of the shop. I told him, of course, and he went ahead and left. The whole shift ran smooth, not too much business because most people tend not to need mechanics at night, so in order to save on labor expenses I told the other two guys working with me to go ahead and go home. I was closing shop a little early because I was trying to rush out to go do something which I don’t remember what it was. So I’m left alone at the shop and it’s dark outside, I don’t really remember the exact time. Now I had parked down the road a little ways because my boss got angry whenever we took up customer parking so I had somewhat of a trek to make. As I was walking I noticed another man across on the other side of the road from me walking the same direction. I didn’t think much of it but I was being cautious and watching him like anyone walking alone at night would do. That is when things began to get  very strange. As I looked across the road I noticed the man was whipping himself with some type of white rope or belt. Each time he swung it he did not even flinch which was what I thought was strange because it seemed as if he did not even feel it. Before I knew it I had accidentally followed him up the road to the church at the end. I decided to follow him secretly to see where he went which led me into the graveyard. As I watched him the man walked over to a particular grave fell onto his knees in front of it and just disappeared from sight. I instantly jumped up, half expecting him to just be hiding behind a grave…but when I went to go look for him he was nowhere to be found. All that I did find however was the white rope in front of the unmarked grave he fell in front of.”

B: “Wow did you ever find out who he was or why he was there?”

A: “Sort of… I took the rope the next day back to the priest of the church to ask him. All he could say was that the rope was a Penitente rope used back in the 1800s when Albuquerque was still under Spanish rule. He also explained to me that the unmarked graves were those of los Penitentes that lived near the church and would walk up the road whipping themselves.”

B: “And what do you make of all this?”

A: “I am still not sure with absolute certainty if I really did witness what I did. I mean I would not have believed myself either if I had not seen it with my own two eyes. But I do really think that it was a spirit of a Penitente. I don’t know perhaps he is still seeking forgiveness for his sins even in death.”