I first discovered ex-votos on a trip to the Marche when I was pursuing a completely different research project. Some friends suggested that we go on an afternoon drive to the small town of Tolentino to visit the Basilica of St Nicholas. They told me that the main tourist treat in store for me was a magnificent fourteenth-century frescoed chapel. However, they also indicated that there would be other delights in store, including a display of illuminated cribs, a diorama of the life of St Nicholas and a room full of ex-votos.
I confess that, at the time, I had only the dimmest understanding of what an ex-voto was. The Latin term means ‘in fulfilment of a vow’ and refers to the practice of leaving a gift at a shrine to give thanks for a miracle. Walking round the museum at Tolentino, I was captivated by the images of St Nicholas intervening in the lives of local people: healing the sick, putting out fires, chasing away the devil and rescuing children from danger. My choice shows a girl falling into a vat of wine at harvest time; thanks to St Nicholas, she lived to tell the tale.
Mary Laven, co-curator Principal Investigator, Domestic Devotions project.