In many cultures, an ex-voto is widely recognized as a devotional painting that is created when an individual’s prayers for healing are answered. After praying to a saint or deity, an individual would commission a local artist to create a small painting that would be hung in a local church as a public testimony of that individual’s faith and gratitude for a miraculous healing.
Typically, ex-votos consist of three basic elements: the depiction of the event, a short description, and an illustration of the saint or deity. Ex-votos also document the treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox, and cancer throughout history. Special emphasis is usually placed on severe symptoms and suffering in the patient . The well-known Peres Maldonado ex-voto, which is included in the exhibit, shows a woman undergoing breast cancer surgery in 1777.
From May 7th – June 16th, the Mario E. Ramirez, M.D., Library and Lower Rio Grande Valley AHEC are co-hosting a traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine called Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos. The exhibit includes examples of ex-votos in both the Italian and Mexican traditions.
An online companion to the traveling exhibit can be viewed on the National Library of Medicine exhibitions page at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/exvotos/. The online exhibit includes a brief history of ex-votos as well as an online gallery representing a variety of traditions and time periods.
Library staff in Harlingen have taken photographs of ex-votos and devotional images in locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley as a complement to the display. Library resources, including books and articles which address spirituality in medicine are available for viewing in the exhibit area.
Kathy Carter, Ramirez Library Librarian