top of page
... a real point of reference for enthusiasts, collectors, admirers and curious.

Perhaps due to the intrinsic difficulty of representing the motivations and the progress of the aggression with the indispensable accuracy of the details, especially the oldest of these votive tablets, many of Mexican origin are often enriched with long explanatory cartouches. This kind of writing is more rare when, instead of a stormy assault by a group of bandits, a sort of duel to the white weapon is described, for which the grace received refers to that of the two contenders who would normally have succumbed. The history of the assaults takes place between the landings of pirates miraculously rejected, carriages looted, wounded by injuries with back stabs, fights between masnadieri for settlement of accounts, riflemen who shoot in the houses looking for criminals, ending up in nineteenth-century family feuds where out of jealousy the husband fired a gunshot at his wife unjustly held to be faithful and then saved by divine intervention. Equally dangerous are aggression by ferocious animals like Marsican bears and snakes, wild like horses or bulls or simple rabid dogs.


Animal aggression
Life in the open air, especially in the wildest areas of the country, entailed a particular type of dangerous aggression: that of ferocious animals. Typical examples are the assault of animals almost disappeared today like the bears of Marsica, in the southwest part of Abruzzo or, rarely, of some snakes. The most common assaults were those caused in the countryside by the bite of reptiles that are much more common, such as vipers, but above all by animals present in agriculture, that is bulls and horses that, if they were wild, could represent a mortal risk. Equally numerous were the assaults by herds of wild dogs, always very dangerous because they were often angry.

The sick are almost all depicted in the bed, a piece of furniture that can be elegantly topped by a canopy with rich drapery or even a simple bed resting on "trestles", on which a thick bright red blanket is spread. Sick people, including children in cradles, are usually surrounded by relatives (in some cases up to eight) who take care of them, but more often they are portrayed while kneeling to invoke healing by praying to Our Lady. Some tablets describe the elegant presence of the doctor, in marsina, lace cuffs and wig, which intervenes to heal one of the typical Italian epidemics of late '800, such as pulmonary tuberculosis, the so-called thin mal, others highlight the surgeon who operates the part of the body affected by infirmity, not infrequently with copious blood. If the sick is dying, for the usual scrupulous narrative of the ex votos, the priest is also depicted who gives him the last unction, the notary who writes the last will and even the death itself that with the scythe in hand is prepared to enter the room.


In votive painting, animals are almost always painted in profile, as in childish drawings or graffiti of prehistoric caves. In a poor economy like the Italian one, many votive offerings refer to the miraculous rescue or recovery of a single head of cattle, usually a cow, a mule, or a horse. In the rarest cases of miraculous interventions against epidemics that threaten entire groups of animals, it is the wealthy owners who invoke the grace of a healthy herd. The animals are always neatly arranged and well aligned, while those already affected are distinguished by having their back stained with blood. In vests and white stockings the veterinarian who is preparing to practice a phlebotomy is often depicted, in the last centuries a widespread practice to heal a barren cow. While his wife entrusts the infirm animal to the Madonna or San Gottardo, sometimes it is the same farmer who intervenes by wielding a knife to "deflate" the belly of his cow. Finally, strangely, the healed cows have a human look, and they seem to have their eyes painted.


Cars and trains
Today, magnificent vintage cars such as Lambda or Isotta Fraschini have become, the sports cars of a century ago and beyond caused unusual accidents such as the overthrow of horse-drawn carriages terrified by the noise of the engine. But the dangers of motorization, similar to those depicted on the tables of "Domenica del Corriere", as clashes with unfortunate "velocipedisti" or investments of pedestrians miraculously remained unharmed, are never considered fortuitous events but always miraculous events attributed to divine intervention. Even more ancient, more simply drawn and not infrequently with imaginary wagons, the nineteenth-century trains, true scientific monsters, narrate the great adventure of steam railways, especially in Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria. Mythological memories of mythical trains that considered "daring initiatives" present very unusual dangers, such as the fall in a slope of a machinist of a clattering steamer, a trunk fallen on the tracks from the trunk car, or the curious rolling of a huge pumpkin that the traveler he can not load on the train.

Judging by the number of votive tablets, there has never existed in the centuries a miraculous event more frequent than that linked to falls. From a runaway horse or in the swollen waters of a river, into the water for the collapse of a wooden bridge over a stream, or headlong down a well, but in ancient agricultural Italy the fall from a tree was perhaps one of the accidents more inevitable, with the men who fall apart in spite while the women's clothes always cover their legs demurely. The same attitude is repeated in the falls from ladders to rupture of the steps or loss of balance. Frequent the failure of entire floors, ceiling beams, trapdoors and balustrades, while the balconies of the farmhouses with the break of the railing are a classic incident involving children, in need of constant heavenly interventions. You can fall from the top of a tower or a bell tower or a steep cliff, but even the simple tripping in the garden of a woman with a newborn in her arms can have very serious consequences. But if the Madonna is invoked ...


Natural calamities
This type of miracle differs in a certain way from all the others, because almost always there is no direct relationship between those who ask for grace and the event that concerns them personally. In the innumerable cases of natural disasters throughout the centuries we are witnessed incapable of any reaction, we observe the catastrophe and we limit ourselves to recommending ourselves to Our Lady or to the patron saint. Whether it's tsunamis, floods or the flood of the Po, or disastrous fires that sometimes cause unpredictable explosions and frightening collapses due to an apocalyptic earthquake, man always feels absolutely helpless. He knows he can not in any way react to counter the overwhelming attack of the crazed nature and therefore he has only to abandon himself to trust in divine help. Thus, even when there is a specific personalized grace, what counts is not the depiction of the miraculous but the very detailed one of the consequences of the catastrophic event. And the more frightening the damage caused by nature, the more powerful and miraculous the divine help was.


Wagons and carriages
From the galeotta (the typical two-wheeled farmer cart pulled by oxen), to the calessino from walking, from the noble carriage to two horses to the typical painted Sicilian cart, for centuries all these means of locomotion have inevitably caused an infinite number of road accidents. But strangely, divine intervention is mostly required for three types of specific accidents. For the closed carriages it is the breaking or loss of a wheel with the overturning of the vehicle and the fall on the ground of the coachman with a tricorn and red jacket, while for the calessinos to cause the accident is the excessive speed of the vehicle that ends to scare and freak the horses. On the contrary, the galeotte pulled by a pair of oxen proceed at a very slow pace, but due to the breakage of the axle they almost always overturn most of the excessive load of hay, fagots or barrels, putting in very danger the driver thrown to earth under the wheels. The divine intervention, as well as to the Madonna, is often invoked also at San Nicola da Tolentino and Sant'Antonio da Padova.


Strangely enough to be semi-destroyed by sudden collapses, often in the middle of the night while the whole family sleeps peacefully, it is not only the ancient poor houses of the peasants, but also luxurious homes of the early '900 perhaps with the gothic façades neoclassical. Persistence of inadequate building techniques? Perhaps, but the fact remains that almost all of these injuries is due to the almost complete collapse of the roof with frightening fall of large load-bearing beams and heavy shingles, when it is not a whole ceiling that falls downwards also sweeping doors and windows, threatening to bury everyone present. The collapses of the side walls of the houses, or the fall from the roof of too heavy stone tiles, are rarer. The collapse that uncovers the house also allows you to observe the details of the interior and discover ancient traditions, such as that of women gathered in the evening in the barn to spin, surrounded by men and children. And just to save the little ones from this kind of calamity, the custom of requesting a particular grace to Our Lady seems to have spread.


The ritual of the liberation of those possessed by the Evil One is always minutely described in the details of the instruments used and arranged on a table with red carpet: the crucifix, the missal, the sprinkler and a manual of exorcistic techniques. The main character is usually a convent friar with a red stole, often an Augustinian, or a simple priest with a crush. The latter endows the obsessive with a sprinkle, always putting his hands on the head of the demon, which, in moments of crisis, manifests a force so extraordinary that it must often be restrained or even immobilized by a robust person. At the end of the reading of the exorcistic formulas, the successful healing of people, more often women, possessed by the devil is pictorially highlighted by a series of little devils in the form of small black birds that come out of the obsess's mouth. Much rarer is the entry into direct action of the Madonna who, for example, invoked by a mother, in some cases intervenes to drive away with a gnarled stick the devil who is grabbing a child.


Military events
With the rare help of some saints, it is almost always Our Lady who brings them back safe and sound from war. But in his interventions in favor of the military, often depicted terribly alone against an infinity of fierce enemies, we find a hint of parental pleas, a presence of mothers hasty, a sigh of faithful wives. In the dozens of firefights in centuries of conflict, the grace received is always the same: saving life. And this miracle so decisive and improbable is often depicted in the act of thanksgiving of the military kneeling with the headgear lying on the ground and the uniform in perfect order. Sometimes two or three years have passed since the event, but the roar of arms is not extinguished and the horrors of war are not erased. Indeed, the memory of the "terrible battle" is so much present that the ex voto is equally charged with gratitude and richness of details. From the distant Risorgimento wars to those of Africa, from the first to the second world war, who has returned home safe and sound and returns in his home atmosphere, has no doubt: he should have died and escaped only by divine intervention.


Stormy sea with very high waves, a fishing boat with ragged sails, broken tree and loose shrouds is facing the gale avoiding rocks and waves. To escape a sure shipwreck, it must be lightened by throwing the load into the sea. Depicted in numerous ex-voto dating back to the fifteenth century, this is one of the typical situations of the eternal struggle between man and the sea. Three centuries later, other tablets include a new grave danger: the threat brought by Turkish ships with half-moon flags and armed men dressed in red and white turbans. From the mid-800s the first steamer steamers, paddleboats that line the ocean laden with emigrants to the Americas. And while the sailors are preparing to defend themselves from the storm, lined up on the bridge, families with children hold hands and invoke the Madonna. Lastly, the two world wars, both ex votos narrate miraculous rescues from sinking ships, until 1942 when a troop transport was torpedoed while bringing back Julia's elements to Italy. The miraculous is saved and next to him floats an alpine hat.


Fires lightning bursts
Even after 1752, the year of the invention of the lightning rod by Benjamin Franklin, the devotees continued to rely on Our Lady when they risked their lives because of the sudden and unpredictable trajectories of lightning. Just think of the occurrence of a lightning striking a man in the head, but then the discharge comes out harmlessly by the hands. In another case it is Saint Casimiro who intervenes: a thunderbolt falls in the yard, hits the cow, but saves the farmer who is milking it. Equally frequent are the graces received regarding the rescue from fires that do not spare homes, stables or even hospitals and churches. But this kind of calamity is almost always the fault of men who provide for improvising firefighters while invoking divine help. Finally, the ex-votos fully document the numerous risks related to explosions, explosions and explosions. The dangers arise from the use of firearms (especially arquebuses), by hunters, bursts of the charge near the trigger of soldiers' guns, uncontrolled explosion of firecrackers and explosions of mines in the processing of stones.

Accidents at work
The oldest occupational accidents occurred in the countryside and the most dangerous instrument was the ax. There are those who plant it on one foot, who clumsily maneuvering it to fall on a dry plant, who is injured by cutting branches, always in the fields, a woman from the Ossola Valley falls into a depression while working with the "medula" (small curved scythe to cut the most exposed grass). Even the mills are the cause of risks, since the vertical assembly operations of the upper grinding wheel. The Madonna di Crescentino must intervene because a man has an arm caught in the cogwheel gear; and the Madonna of Life saves a young man buried by a pile of sacks of flour. Accidents in construction works were frequent as unfortunately nowadays, but those who at that time most struck the imagination of the devotees were the first of an industrial type, when the paddle wheels of the spinning mills provided energy. The strangest former vote dates back to 1863: the worker of a factory entangled in pulleys is saved but is completely stripped. Two female colleagues invoke the Madonna but they are scandalized.


Special miracles
It is not always easy to distinguish the various types of miracles, whose interpretation is left to the examination of some unusual detail. And in the absence of a common denominator, it is often impossible to gather multiple votive tablets within the same category. The difficulty increases because many of these ex-votes come from distant foreign countries (Mexico, Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe); even in the same Catholic tradition, they differ from the Italian votive approach. Thus, for example, an Austrian eighteenth-century tablet illustrates the life of Saint Isidore, a poor peasant who deserved holiness by hoeing the land of a rich landowner in 12 squares. The spade is an important detail: during a prolonged drought, it sank into the ground and made a clear source gush. A former German vote of 1870 depicts the 14 assistant saints invoked by Christians for particular needs or diseases such as typhus or cholera epidemics. A Mexican tablet of 1769 shows in four scenes the failed attack on a friar who saved himself by falling before the altar of the Madonna.


Multiple miracles
At the root of the decision to merge two or more miraculous divine interventions into a single votive tablet, there is certainly no economic consideration: that of reducing the compensation for the painter in half. Naturally the same Madonna or the same saint is always invoked. Only in very rare cases the multiple miracle is portrayed by an ex voto divided into two separate parts where the painter illustrated similar misfortunes occurred to two brothers. Generally, the double ex-voto refers to two events that are close in time, normally about one year. The most frequent multiple miracle is that which brings together the various events, even very different from one another, merging them into a single representation, which however sometimes makes the interpretation of the various events very complex. A Piedmontese tablet of 1831 arrives to reunite four episodes that have as protagonist the same devotee. And here is the reconstruction of the incident: because of an accidental shot collapsing the tiles from the roof of the house, the man, frightened, gets rid of a horse that ends up attacking it by dropping it under the wheels of the plow pulled by oxen, but in the end the devotee saves himself, kneels down, lays his hat on the ground and thanks the Madonna dei Fiori.



That of the praying person is the fateful moment of the former vow where the relationship between divinity and those who have asked and received grace is more immediate and immediate. The kneeling and reverent characters are very varied. From the prayers with white veil, covering head and shoulders (the traditional "continence" of Lombardy, sign of penitence) to the nuns and novices, from noble couples in costume to humble mothers with newborns in their arms. And then friars, young men with berets in their hands and nobles with a sword on their side. Finally, families, almost always very numerous. The most singular presents father, mother and four children all hunchbacks who thank the fifth son looks straight as a spindle. The motivations of grace received are very different. It goes from the boy who passed an exam, to the devotee who, healed, flaunts a now useless orthopedic bust. There are women who thank for the abundant harvest of hazelnuts, but also the young man who asks for "the grace to obtain from God the divine wisdom and the glory of paradise". The most unusual ex votos depicts a Mexican noblewoman healed from the tricycephalous, with a solitary worm in a jar next to her.


Prisons torture courts
Especially the oldest tablets (XV and XVI centuries) depict impressive scenes of torture, with prisoners in stocks and a neck lace. Typical torture of rope stretches. In the torture chamber the accused, with his legs in the stocks, is hanging by the arms behind his back by two men who tug at him, while at his feet a fire burns menacingly. Thus subjected to the so-called "trial" before the judges, paludate and impassive, sitting in front of the "bank of justice", the accused unfortunates, often condemned to death without any possibility of defense, it remained only to be recommended to divine providence. The rescue thanks to divine intervention appears a few moments before the fateful moment, when the condemned men, comforted by a priest with the crucifix in hand, are being led to execution by a red-uniformed tambourine and six arquebusiers. The votive tablets in which the prisoner invokes divine help against life imprisonment ("to be freed from perpetual jail") or even the simple end of the torture of the shackles, or of the chain that closes his ankle.


The most perfect example of this type of miracles is a former plural vote of 1873 in which the protagonist (Andrea Conte di Fondi) reunites his four failed suicide attempts one after the other. In the first case the suicide aspirant rests the rifle on the step of a ladder and fires, but the aim is defective and the bullet does not hit him. In the second, the chosen method is hanging from a tree. Neither the rope nor the long branch breaks, but again the attempt fails. Ostinately, the protagonist decides to throw himself into a well, but again in vain, as well as when he then climbs onto the roof and throws himself on the road below. Is it only four fortuitous cases? Or of an absolute and involuntary incapacity to carry out the suicide? After almost a century and a half it is impossible to scientifically evaluate the correlation that evidently existed between anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation and attempted suicide. In doubt, the merit of the fourfold rescue is attributed to Our Lady of Itri, depicted in a tiny medallion in a corner of the former vow.


bottom of page