Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
An appellation given to certain fraternities of penitents, distinguished by the different shape and colour of their habits. These are secular societies, who have their rules, statutes, and churches, and make public processions under their particular crosses or banners. Of these, it is said, there are more than a hundred, the most considerable of which are as follow: the White Penitents, of which there are several different sorts at Rome, the most ancient of which was instituted in 1264: the brethren of this fraternity every year give portions to a certain number of young girls, in order to their being married: their habit is a kind of white sackcloth, and on the shoulder is a circle, in the middle of which is a red and white cross. Black Penitents, the most considerable of which are the Brethren of Mercy, instituted in 1488 by some Florentines, in order to assist 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: their habit is black sackcloth.
There are others whose business is to bury such persons as are found dead in the streets; these wear a death's head on one side of their habit. There are also blue, gray, red, green, and violet penitents, all which are remarkable for little else besides the different colours of their habits. Penitents, or Converts of the name of Jesus, a congregation of religious at Seville, in Spain, consisting of women who have led a licentious life, founded in 1550. This monastery is divided into three quarters: one for professed religious; another for novices; 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. Augustin. Penitents of Orvieto, are an order of nuns instituted by Antony 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 erected into a monastery, for the reception of such as having abandoned themselves to impurity, were willing to take up, and consecrate themselves to God by solemn vows. Their rule is that of the Carmelites.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Penitents'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/p/penitents.html. 1802.