Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ex Votos

Ex votos at the Basilica of San Domenico in Sienna.
When Paul and I went to Italy last summer I was so impressed by the silver Sacred Hearts that I saw displayed in so many of the churches that we visited.  I had never seen displays like this in the United States and wondered what they were and wanted to know the meaning behind them.  Our guide in Sienna told me that they were votives, offerings of thanksgiving to God.  I was immediately fascinated and wanted to learn yet more about these offerings.  

Ex votos found at the Cathedrale de Santa Maria, also known as the Duomo or Divine Beauty in Siena

Ex Votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, in Rome

While in Rome we found ex votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, which were
just dripping with colorful rosaries.

So many rosaries!

Arriving back home, I researched these votives a bit more and found that they are actually called ex votos.  Ex votos are common in Europe and in South America.  In Europe a framed silver heart is often left behind in a church in thanksgiving for a favor received or an answered prayer. Perhaps a loved one has been healed of an illness.  Maybe the longed for beau finally appeared and marriage plans were on the way or a child was accepted to seminary to begin a life of service to God. Sometimes the ex voto is a silver body part such as a leg or a hand to signify the part of the body that was healed.

In South America the ex votos take on a different form.  Rather than using a silver Sacred Heart in thanksgiving, a picture is painted of the actual incident which required prayer and then, in a corner of the painting, the saint to whom the thanksgiving was offered was portrayed.

The only example of ex votos that I have ever seen at home were a display of crutches at Holy Hill Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin, which, although miraculously dramatic, aren't as beautiful as the hearts.   I've been told that Americans are more practical and we usually give monetary offerings in thanksgiving for answered prayers.

I had become so enamored (obsessed, really) by the ex votos that I wanted to find some of my own.  I searched everywhere on the internet and only found some antique ex votos for sale but the price was in the hundreds of dollars which was beyond my reach.  I did find some reproductions of vintage ex votos on Etsy and purchased two that I found to be particularly charming, but none of those ex votos came with the oval frame that encased so many of the ex votos that I saw in Italy.  I still have not been able to find the simple oval frames anywhere that I have looked.

The beginnings of my ex voto collection.  The two largest hearts were purchased on Etsy.  The heart on the right was made with an embossed stamp.  The ex votos in the middle are antique religious medals.
This display includes two ex votos that I printed from images online and the
ex voto in the middle was made from a heart that I purchased in the gift shop where I work.
The little jar of sea glass and piece of pottery were found at the Adriatic Sea in Italy during a short stop there.

Here's a bulletin board covered in velvet displaying a few more ex voto pictures, some wooden scrolled hearts, and a few framed holy cards.  The Virgin with Child card was purchased in the Holy Land and given to Paul by a co-worker.
 Not Italian, but beautiful nonetheless.

Paul suggested that I find an image of an ex voto and print it and frame it.  I thought that was excellent advice so I did print a few pictures of some beautiful, antique ex votos.  And then I thought, why not make my own?  So I played around with stamps, holy cards and religious medals and found that they stood in quite well for authentic ex votos.  And then, after much searching, I found a roll of heavy-duty craft aluminum and used it to make my own silver hearts which I glued onto red cardstock and this project has kept me busy for quite some time.

Then I came upon a silver, oval embroidery hoop at a thrift store that was run by the School Sisters of St. Francis.  Sister Geraldine told me that I could have the hoop free of charge.  It was such a simple thing but I was thrilled by it!  I framed a piece of red velvet in the hoop and then searched through a jar of my mother's antique buttons looking for every silver button available.  I used those buttons to sew an ex voto heart onto the velvet and am so delighted by my unique ex voto that reminds me of my beloved mother.  Each pull of the needle and thread was a prayer for her soul and a sweet reminder of her love.

Now that three of our sons are out of the house we have a little more space so Paul and I have decided to decorate our spare room with mementoes from our pilgrimage.  We're calling the room our Italy Room.  My ex votos have filled the walls and shelves quite nicely and serve as a wonderful offering of thanksgiving for the miracle of being able to take that fantastic, life-changing trip.

A homemade ex voto using heavy-duty foil and cardstock.  The "GR" stands for "Grace Received."

The "M" stands for our Mother Mary, of course!

 A mini ex voto tree to complement a sea glass tree.

The button ex voto underneath framed photos of the ex votos I found in Italy.
I just had to add a few clusters of rosaries!

One-of-a-kind antique button ex voto.

1 comment:

  1. Anne, I love the ex votos you've created! You certainly have the eye of an artist and it's so beautiful to see how you express your devotion through your creations. The pictures of the ex votos in Italy are moving, such tangible witness to God's grace and mery. Thank you so much for sharing these!