Relics & Reliquaries

Votive Plaque with Eyes

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, gift of M. Henri Seyrig, Institut Français d'Archéologie de Beyrouth, 1956

Votive Plaque with Eyes

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Pilgrims could take home tokens from the shrines they had visited (see cat. nos. 21–24), but they could also purchase small votive offerings to be left at the shrines, prolonging their spiritual devotion long after they had left. The practice of leaving ex-votos continues to the present day in some regions. In the early medieval period, such offerings could take the form of small objects left at the shrine, paintings or mosaics commissioned by the faithful, or even words of thanks scratched into the fabric of the church building. They could be left either in anticipation of a successful visit or in gratitude after the suppliant had been healed or forgiven or had other requests satisfied. A number of votive plaques were found outside Ma'aret en-Noman, in present day Syria. These thin sheets of silver, stamped with images and inscriptions, were probably produced near the shrine and sold at a relatively low cost to pilgrims. Several of these feature depictions of eyes, perhaps related to an affliction that the saint was asked to heal. The group also included figures of unidentified female saints shown standing, facing forward, with arms raised in the orans posture of prayer. This stance presents the saint as an intercessor between the faithful suppliant and God, bridging the divide between earthly need and divine power. It is possible that these plaques were offered at a smaller church, rather than a major shrine, and small holes in the plaques might indicate that they were nailed to a wall inside the church, or suspended from above.

Kathryn B. Gerry