Every year in Irapuato, as well as in most cities and towns in Mexico, on “Viernes Santo”, Good Friday, there is a silent march. It consists of volunteers who walk the streets in complete silence and solemnity either carrying a platform on their collective shoulders or shepherding a religious float that is propelled by some form of motor vehicle. The platforms and floats support religious statues of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion and Mary, the Mother of Sorrows. The marchers can be identified by their costumes. Some are dressed very realistically as Roman soldiers (often on horseback) and others as penitents who wear long flowing robes and tall, pointed, conical caps. They belong to religious fraternities who are dedicated to preserving the traditional customs of Holy Week. The practice goes back to the year 1478 when the Inquisition was established in Spain by Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella as a countermeasure to the Protestant Reformation. Penitence and the renewal of faith were encouraged by the Spanish Monarchy and brotherhoods called “cofradías” were formed to strengthen and encourage the traditions of the church, especially in regard to Holy Week observances. In Spain there were about 57 original cofradías and many of these same cofradías were carried over to New Spain.
The outfits worn by the cofradía penitents are reminiscent of the uniform that in the United States is generally associated with the Ku Klux Klan. This may somewhat confusing and disconcerting to the first time visitor. I must admit that the very first time I witnessed this event I was startled by these costumes and was taken aback until I learned that the origin of the robes and “capirotes” (as the caps are called) goes back to religious fraternities that had their beginnings in medieval Spain. The use of this costume by the Ku Klux Klan just illustrates the degree to which the participants in the Klan are misled . The word “capirote” is a long pointed hood that medieval penitents wore, similar to the caps worn by prisoners put on display for public humiliation. In the United States it might be referred to as the “dunce cap” that the teachers of years gone by made students wear if they acted badly or didn’t know their lessons. A “capirote” is also the name for the little hood that falconers put on the heads of their birds to keep them quiet. A “capirote” can mean a cow or other livestock that has a head that is a different color that the body. Many bird names in Spanish exhibit a variation of the word “capirote” if the bird has some type of different colored “cap” of feathers on its head. Below you can see a picture of a penitent wearing a capirote as well as some other examples of capirotes.