Ex Votos

It is not uncommon to see in churches throughout the world – but especially in Europe – votive offerings from the faithful in recognition of answered prayers. These offerings take many forms, but they all fall under the category of “ex votos”, a Latin term meaning “from a vow made”. These are special gifts made by the faithful, either because they made a vow to do so if their prayer was answered, or even if they didn’t make a vow, because they wanted to make such a presentation in gratitude for an answered prayer. The answered prayers range from the very ordinary to the quite extraordinary.

Here are some of the ex votos that I’ve photographed in the past year or so. But there are so many other types, and I will comment on those as the post goes on.

An altar located in the entrance to a small chapel just off Piazza Venezia, Rome. The image of Our Lady on it is not only crowned, but has earrings!

If you look closely, there is an almost-black section of marble in the center of this altar with the words “EX VOTO” on it. This is certainly a very large and expensive votive offering – such an altar today would cost several tens of thousands of dollars! Unfortunately I don’t know any more about who gave it or what type of prayer of theirs was answered, but this is a case where we are all benefiting from their answered prayer, thanks to this veritable monument erected in honor of the Blessed Mother and to give worship to God through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Small marble plaques outside the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Paris.

At the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Paris, there were countless little marble plaques offered in fulfillment of vows and in thanksgiving for answered prayers, some of them quite touching. For example, the center-bottom one says “Thanks to Mary for my healing and the conversion of my son. Protect us always.”, then it is signed and dated.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Divine Providence, in the Church of San Carlo ai Catinari, Rome.

Here we see blue or pink ribbons offered for – guess what – answered prayers to conceive and bear a child! Presumably the woman in the bottom-right of the photo was praying that she could add such a ribbon herself.

An altar in honor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories, Paris.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux is certainly loved the world over, with countless people (myself included) having had prayers to her answered in remarkable ways. The power of her prayers is clearly visible in the many marble plaques attached to the walls surrounding this altar!

The confessional of the famous Fr. Felice Cappello, S.J., “the confessor of Rome”, who died just over 50 years ago. The confessional has since been converted into a sort of shrine.

In this confessional shrine you can see small silver hearts hanging; this type of ex voto is very common and represents many different types of answered prayers. Sometimes you will see little silver legs, arms, or other symbols indicating that a prayer for healing was answered.

A unique ex voto in Spanish, in the Shrine of Our Lady of Victories, Paris.

This ex voto is unique because it documents not only an answered prayer but also a new prayer intention, and one which is quite beautiful and important for us all to consider as well. The answered prayer part (the top half) says: “A testimony of love and recognition for a healing obtained. Mexico, April 27, 1883.” The new prayer intention, beneath it, says: “My Mother I beg you to obtain for me health or resignation. Mexico, December 1883.” It seems this person must have been facing a terminal illness or at least chronic health problems. And it gives us something to reflect upon: do we pray only for healing, or do we pray for the grace to accept the cross if healing is not God’s will? In other words, do we pray for resignation to God’s will?

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As I said at the beginning, there are many different types of ex votos or votive offerings given by the faithful. Besides those shown above, I have also seen flowers or potted plants, chalices, vestments, statues, other sacred vessels, and even entire churches. And surely there are many other types.

Seeing these testimonies of faith and of God’s power surely inspire us to be bold in our own prayers. Maybe also it might inspire us to be more faithful in giving thanks to God and his Saints for the prayers that have been answered according to our desires. And for those prayers that have not yet been answered, or have not been answered the way we might like, perhaps through these witnesses of faith we can gain the strength to be resigned to whatever it is that the Lord has planned for us.

Documenting the saving of someone’s life.

“Mary has extraordinarily answered my prayer.”

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