Exvotos, Votive Offerings

The general name given to those things vowed or dedicated to God, or a saint, and in consequence looked upon as set apart by this act of consecration. The idea is very old (Dhorme, "Choix des textes religeux assyro-babyloniens", XXXVII, Paris, 1907; Aristotle, "Politics", VII, xii), for it springs from man's instinctive attitude towards the higher powers. He looks upon them as controlling by Providence the working of the world, and therefore addresses prayers to them. In order to make his appeal the more acceptable he offers some gift, whether on behalf of the living or the dead, to the offended deity. Hence undoubtedly springs (though with it is coupled the vague notion of the passage to the next life as a long journey) the custom of surrounding the buried dead with their most valued possessions and favourite wives (Fraser, "Pausania", II, 173; Lyall, "Asiatic Studies", II, 301). But it has also happened that the practice, based on the true theological concept of religion as a part of justice (do ut des), comes of adorning shrines with various objects of gratitude (Cicero, "De deorum natura", III, xxxvii). In this more ordinary sense of the word votive offerings can be divided into:

  • (a) things vowed to God or the saints in some trouble or crisis of life;
  • (b) things presented in gratitude for a recovery or deliverance without having been previously promised.

Naturally these votive offerings constitute an extremely varied list. The most common are those which represent the person to whom the favour has been accorded, or the thing that has benefited under the miracle, or some representation of the actual Divine interposition. Thus, for example, on the day of his marriage, Henry III of England had a golden statue of his queen made and placed on the shrine of St. Edward at Westminster (Wall, "Shrines of British Saints", 228) and a full-length figure of Duke Alessandro de' Medici was moulded in wax for the Church of the Annunziata at Florence by Benvenuto Cellini (King, "Sketches and Studies", 259). Again, the offering of a falcon in wax at the shrine of St. Wulstan by Edward I, when, by the intercession of that saint, his favourite bird had been cured (Wall, 141), and of the tail of a peacock at Evesham by an old lady whose pet had recovered through the invocation of Simon de Montfort (King, 259), are instances of the same custom. At Boulogne and elsewhere can be seen the model ships offered as ex-votos after deliverance from shipwreck, such as we read of Edward III leaving at the tomb of his father, or such as the Navicella at Rome, a copy made under Leo X of a pagan votive offering to Jupiter Redux (Hare, "Walks in Rome", I, London, 1900, 231). So, too, sometimes a wax taper of the height of the sufferer, or even of his dimensions was brought or sent to be burnt where the cure or favour was implored. Of the pictures of miracles as votive offerings there seems no end ("Archæologia", XLIX, London, 1886, 243-300); their number became at times an inconvenience (Acta SS., XIV, May, I, 354), like the numerous crutches, etc., in the grotto at Lourdes or S. Nicolà at Verona, or SS. Giovanni e Paolo at Venice. There is, moreover, the parallel of the golden boils and blains placed by Divine command within the Ark (1 Samuel 6:11).

We also read of money and valuables being offered, as the famous régale of France, which, described indifferently as a diamond and a ruby, adorned the tomb of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Often also a trophy of victory (King, 256-7), the banner of a defeated foe ("Itinerarium Regis Ricardi", in "Rolls Series", I, London, 1864, 446), or his sword (1 Samuel 21:9), or even that of the victor (as Roland's at Rocamadour, or Athelstan's after Brunanburgh at the shrine of St. John of Beverley, or as the sacred Stone of Destiny offered by Edward I at the tomb of his namesake the Confessor, after his defeat of the Scotch), or some symbol of office and dignity, as the crowns presented by King Canute at Bury St. Edmunds and elsewhere, or lastly some masterpiece of literature or art, as Erasmus hung up Greek verses at the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham ("Colloquies", II, London, 1878, 19).

Fuente: NEW ADVENT Catholic Encyclopedia


Abba Anthony dijo: "Se aproximan los tiempos en que las personas enloqueserán, y cuando vean a alguien cuerdo, lo atacarán diciendo: Estás loco porque no eres como nosotros."

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En la sección tercera "Singularidades relativas" un comentario delicioso de este extraordinario autor cristiano.

La obra de arte famosa aparece en la historia como una creación primordial, como un milagro inexplicable. Ninguna ley sociológica puede prever el día de su llegada ni valorar después su existencia. Ciertamente hay condiciones preliminares, muy importantes, sin las que esa no se puede realizar. Sin embargo, estas condiciones no son suficientes para explicar su existencia y valor. Sin duda Shakespeare tuvo predecesores, contemporáneos y toda una atmósfera teatral que favorecieron su aparición: pero esto no basta para explicar su talento. Para componer La flauta mágica Mozart tuvo ciertamente a disposición una gran cantidad de motivos y modelos vieneses e italianos, pero quién puede explicar cómo la forma primordial y única ha sido impresa en esta materia. En el mejor de los casos se puede intuir y barruntar un «kairós», pero jamás lo que concretamente da forma definitiva. Apenas surge la obra de arte famosa asume inmediatamente la dirección; ella tiene la palabra. El lenguaje único que ella habla se convierte en seguida en lenguaje común. La obra de arte famosa no se comunica con el lenguaje habitual que ya existía; sólo la nueva lengua que nace con ella es capaz de interpretarla, de autoexplicarla. Al principio los contemporáneos están aturdidos, después comprenden de improviso y hablan el nuevo lenguaje (el siglo de Goethe) como si ellos mismos lo hubieran inventado. Incluso a un niño apenas capaz de tararear las arias más simples le gusta oír La flauta mágica; el oído musical más fino y exigente no se cansa tampoco de escucharla: el recital de Pamino, el aria de Tamina y el trío de adiós son un misterio inagotable. Todavía una última observación: la obra de arte famosa es comprendida en cierto modo por todos; pero se revela tanto más profundamente cuanto más atenta y delicada es la sensibilidad de quien la contempla. No todos son capaces de gustar el sonido particular del griego de Sófocles, el alemán del Fausto o el francés de las poesías de Valéry. Sin duda las disposiciones subjetivas tienen su influencia, pero es mucho más importante la comprensión objetiva y la capacidad de distinguir lo noble de lo vulgar. Las filosofías del arte (como la de Schelling y Hegel) tratarán de proyectar en un horizonte de comprensión común las imágenes irracionales y arbitrarias y el mundo en ellas contenido, quizá -por qué no- con un éxito parcial. Pero a pesar de todo el «milagro» de una obra de arte famosa permanece siempre inexplicable.

por Hans Urs von Balthasar
Ediciones Sígueme, Salamanca, 1974


"The most important and most perfect work of Joos van Wassenhove (Justus of Ghent) by far is The Institution of the Eucharist (The Communion of the Apostles), painted for the high altar of the Brotherhood of Corpus Domini. The picture was based on a painting by Fra Angelico that Justus may have seen at St Mark's convent in Florence, in which the disciples leave the table to kneel at Christ's feet. Yet, despite this influence, the finished work shows just how far Justus's style remained purely Flemish, virtually untouched by all he had seen during his time in Italy..."


Abba Poemen le preguntó a Abba Antonio: "¿Qué debo hacer?" El anciano le dijo: "No confíes en tu propia justicia, no te preocupes por nada una vez que fue hecho, controla tu lengua y tu estómago."