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Fascinating Forms of Devotion: Milagros and Other Ex-Votos

By Melanie Fields

A wide variety of interesting objects is currently on display in the Marian Library exhibit Journeys of Faith: Shrines, Souvenirs, and Catholic Tourism. Among these are milagros and other ex-votos — items that have graced certain Marian shrines for centuries. 

An ex-voto, short for the Latin ex voto suscepto, or “from the vow made,” is a type of offering left at a shrine or church as a way to give thanks to a saint for an answered prayer. First appearing in the 1490s, ex-votos have taken on many different shapes — three-dimensional artifacts, pressed metal forms, and paintings detailing the narrative of a reported miracle, for example. Ex-votos allow an individual to express humility and gratitude for the assistance of a saint, and their physical presence at a shrine helps to illustrate visitors’ faith in the possibility of miracles.

In Latin American shrines, ex-voto paintings have become a popular folk art tradition. These compositions are typically painted on tin and usually depict a scene central to the individual’s prayer intention. This scene is also accompanied by a written message of gratitude and an image of Mary interceding on the believer’s behalf. Within the Marian Library’s collection, these compositions often depict Mary under the titles of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos. 

A popular form of ex-voto is the milagro, Spanish for “miracle.” Milagros can come in all kinds of shapes and materials, though most are made of metal. Many depict specific objects, such as parts of the body, symbolizing the nature of the answered prayer or healing request. Visitors often leave these charms at shrines as votive offerings after healings; however, milagros also can be purchased and kept for personal devotion. A multitude of milagros can be fastened to a single object of devotion such as the gold cross below, which contains over 130 charms.

Featured below is a selection of milagros and ex-votos on display. For more information, visit

Melanie Fields is a library specialist in the Marian Library, working with artwork and special collections and communicating about the Marian Library through a variety of media.

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