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October 07, 2008 [posted]

Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos

Ex-votos...are a moving record of a nation, a stethoscope measure of its heart.

graphical image of the letter E

Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos, a new small exhibition on display at the U.S. National Library of Medicine® (NLM®), explores the relationship between faith and healing as expressed in the personal devotional paintings from Italy and Mexico. Ex-votos are small devotional paintings that were commissioned by the faithful for healing miracles and displayed in community churches as testimony to their devotion and gratitude. Painted with illustrations of patients, doctors, and diseases, ex-votos open a window to our understanding of how the faithful coped with illness in their daily lives. (See Figure 1.)

Using examples from the past three hundred years, the exhibition provides a glimpse of the role that faith has played for some in the healing of illness and injury. Illustrating both the prayers of the faithful and the symptoms of illnesses such as smallpox and tuberculosis, ex-votos offer a rare opportunity to view an individual's personal response to illness and healing as well as the symptoms of disease.

The exhibition features several expressively painted ex-votos and is complemented by a display of early medical guides from the 16th and 17th centuries published in Mexico and used to assist in the care and treatment of the sick.

Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos is on display in the History of Medicine Division of the NLM from September 15, 2008 through January 31, 2009.

An online version of the exhibition in three languages—English, Spanish, and Italian—includes a gallery of more than twenty-five ex-votos (see Figure 2). For more information, please contact Jill L. Newmark.

By Jill L. Newmark
History of Medicine Division

Newmark JL. Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos. NLM Tech Bull. 2008 Sep-Oct; (364):e9.

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