Scholars have documented a near universal custom of offering small trinkets to either solicit favors or to give thanks for favors received. The custom goes by various names in various languages, and the items have been offered to pagan deities and Christian saints. One could leave an item behind when asking for a favor, and some ex-votos have been used for that purpose, to 'remind' a deity or a saint to fulfill a request. However, a more common practice, especially in the Christian world, has been to leave a trinket after a miracle has taken place, in thanksgiving for and testimony to the received miracle. The practice of leaving behind ex-votos bares a belief in supernatural agents that intervene and assist in this world, who can be petitioned through objects, and who appreciate the tokens of thanks we offer them. Writing by Sean di Renzo.
Ex-votos in the shape of eyes may indicate vision problems, blindness, or even references to the all-seeing God. Interestingly, “in the folk culture of southern Italy, eyes are the body's primary organ, powerful and at the same time delicate.” Francis, Doris, ed. Faith and Transformation: Votive Offerings and Amulets from the Alexander Girard Collection. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2007.
This heart shaped ex-voto dates from 1880 and was housed in a French monastery. This ex-voto is made of bronze and opens to insert one’s handwritten prayers.
Ex-voto from the National Marian Congress of Boulogne-sur-Mer (near the northern tip of France) of 21-24 July 1936, which celebrated the consecration of France to Mary by King Louis XIII in 1638. The French poem on the reverse side translates to: “Read, Our Lady / on the heart you have here / the hope of my soul / and its love as well.”
This ex-voto displays the flames indicative of the Sacred Heart along with the Christogram IHS.
This hand-sewn ex-voto reminds us that not only metals were used to make ex-votos; they have often been handmade of even humbler materials. Here, the crown of thorns surrounding the heart clearly calls to mind the Sacred Heart.
This ex-voto includes a top clasp to allow for a piece of ribbon or string to fasten the piece onto a statue, or perhaps even to wear it for a period of time, which was sometimes done before placing the ex-voto near the saint to be thanked. The wearing of an ex-voto displayed to the Christian community that the person had been the locus of a miracle. The letters GR stand for grazia ricevuta or 'grace received'.