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Penitent men in procession

As a sign of contrition and repentance, Filipino volunteers engage in the yearly tradition of Penitensya. An ancient and bloody tradition, Penitensya pits man’s flesh against self-inflicted wounds, exemplifying Catholic piety and devotion in one of the holiest days of the year: Good Friday.

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A volunteer clasping his hand in prayer as he is cut for the first time

Volunteers would kneel down, while assistants would run a blade down their backs to open up small wounds throughout the surface of their flesh.

Wooden clogs would then be tied together and attached to the end of a short, stiff rope. This would be smacked to the person’s back, agitating the cuts, on and on until the blood runs down and soaks every pore in his body.

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The wooden clogs turn red with the blood of its wielder

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Sweat and blood would soar in the air with every strike of their implement

Men who undergo this rigorous exercise drink copious alcohol beforehand to help numb the pain of the coming ordeal. Despite the blood and the agony, however, it is said to leave little scar but the memory of pain.

With Penitensya, men render flesh and in so doing, render service to their God.

The photos above were taken in Perez, Quezon, during Holy Week celebrations.

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