10 September 2011

Life's little miracles: The Exvotos of Nuestra Señora de los Santos

Regardless of one´s religious beliefs, it is hard not to be moved by the exvotos which line the walls of the chapel at the Ermita-Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Santos, five km from the town of Alcalá de los Gazules.  They are the iconography of the people, rough hand-painted illustrations offering thanks to the Virgin Mary, each depicting a real human drama in which Our Lady is believed to have intervened.

The custom of votive offerings is practised in many Catholic countries.  In Spain it dates back to the 14th Century, but they became particularly prolific from the 17th Century onwards.  The Sanctuary in Alcalá contains exvotos going back to 1758. They give a unique picture of how people lived, and the dangers they faced and continue to face in their daily lives: sickness and disease, war, falling off horses, accidents at work, falling into wells or rivers, traffic accidents.   Some have been restored, many more are in storage because there is simply not enough room to display them all.  

The American historian and anthropologist Jerome Mintz, who lived in the area in the 1970s, photographed many of them and they can be seen on the website Archivo Exvotos Revista Sans Soleil.  Some examples are shown below.

More exvotos here - click on the images to enlarge them

The Sanctuary is open to visitors from 10 am to 1 pm and from 4 till 8 pm.


Tumbit.com said...

Some quite moving little scribbles there, and the artists obvioulsy believed in some kind of divine intervention safed them from whatever unpleasantness.
I though that the farmer trapped underneath his yellow JCB seemed oddly anachronistic though...

Claire Lloyd said...

Glad you enjoyed then. There are a lot more recent ones than shown here, as the Mintz collection only goes up to the 1970s. It is very much an ongoing, living tradition. They really do believe that Mary protects them from harm. Don't you have little shrines by the road round your way?

It can get alarming however when they are driving past a shrine, crossing themselves with one hand and with their phone in the other.

Tumbit.com said...

There are an odd one or two shrines at the side of roads, but they are deffinately a minority. Interesting how the regions have their own peculiarities.