Exvoto is a Spanish word
meaning votive offering. Ex-Votos are images offered to a
deity or saint as a form of prayer or wish, or, most often, as a
thank you for an answered prayer. In most cases, the exvoto is signed by the supplicant and dated, and explains
why the giver is giving thanks. In many cases, they tell a very
touching personal story. The personal story is what makes them
so fascinating. The exvoto is most often left at a church
altar. They are very public, yet very personal, professions of
faith in God and thanks for favors received.
The most common reason for thanks is
health, with many exvotos dedicated after operations.
Survival of accidents is a close second. But almost any subject
is sufficient to justify creating one, from finding a missing
farm animal to helping to find a spouse.
The concept of a votive offering has
been around for thousands of years. However, it's most recent
form originated in Italy in the 15th century where wealthy
patrons would commission religious pictures in which they
themselves were depicted in the scene. This new votive tradition
quickly spread both geographically and also amongst economic
classes. The poorer classes would hire a less talented
artist to paint their votive offerings.
The tradition of votive painting was
brought to the New World by Spanish settlers. At the end
of the 18th century, tin plate became widely available in Mexico
and thus, Mexican folk painters discovered a new surface medium
for their painting. Because tinplate was so cheap, the practice
of offering votive paintings to Jesus, Mary, or one’s favorite
saint became very common among the masses in Mexico, and the
custom was mostly abandoned by the upper classes.
Exvotos are a wonderful and
unique expression of Mexican culture.