(II). There are in the Roman Catholic Church several orders or fraternities (as they are called) of penitents, of both sexes. These are secular societies, who have their rules, statutes, and churches, and make public processions under their particular crosses or banners. Of these is is said there more than a hundred, the most considerable of which are as follows:
1. The White Penitents, of whom there several different bodies at Rome, the most ancient having been constituted in 1264 by Gonfalon, in the church of San major, in imitation of which four others were established in the church of Ara-Coeli. The habit of these penitents is a kind of white sackcloth, and on the shoulder is circle, in the middle of which is a red and white cross.
⇒Bible concordance for PENITENT.
2. Black Penitents, the most considerable of which are the Brethren of Mercy, were instituted in 1488 by some Florentines, in order to attend criminals during their imprisonment and at the time of their death. On the day of execution they walk in procession before them, singing the seven penitential psalms and the litanies; and after they are dead they take them down from the gibbet and bury them. These penitents wear black sackcloth, and hence they are sometimes called Friars of the Sack. There are others whose business it is to bury such persons as are found dead in the streets: these wear a death's head on one side of their habit.
3. There are also blue, gray, red, green, and violet penitents, all whom are remarkable for little else besides the different colors of their habits.
4. Penitents or converts of the name of Jesus are a congregation of religious at Seville, in Spain, consisting of women who have led a licentious life. This monastery, founded in 1550, is divided into three quarters: one for professed religious, another for novices, and a third for those who are under correction. When these last give signs of a real repentance, they are removed into the quarter of the novices, where, if they do not behave themselves well, they are remanded to their correction. They observe the rule of St. Augustine.
5. Penitents of Orvieto are an order of nuns instituted by Antonio Simoncelli, a gentleman of Orvieto, in Italy. The monastery he built was at first designed for the reception of poor girls abandoned by their parents, and in danger of losing their virtue. In 1662 it was changed into a monastery, for the reception of such as, having abandoned themselves to impurity, were willing to reform and consecrate themselves to God by solemn vows. Their rule is that of the Carmelites.
6. The Order of Penitents of St. Magdalen was established about the year 1272, by one Bernard, a citizen of Marseilles, who devoted himself to the work of converting the courtesans of that city. Bernard was seconded by several others, who, forming a kind of society, were at length erected into a religious order by pope Nicholas III, under the rule of St. Augustine. Gesney says they also made a religious order of the penitents, or women whom they converted, giving them the same rules and observances which they themselves kept.
7. The Congregation of Penitents of St. Magdalen of Paris. By virtue of a brief of, pope Alexander, Simon, bishop of Paris, in 1497, drew them up a body of statutes, and gave them the rule of St. Augustine.
See Hist. du Clerge seculier et regulier, 1:361 sq.; 2:386; iii; 135, 249. SEE MAGDALEN, RELIGIOUS ORDER OF.