Nearly every inch of this Paris basilica is covered in ex-votos, devotional artifacts that take their name from the Latin “ex voto suscepto,” or “from the vow made.” The church houses an astounding 37,000 items.
The church is named Notre Dame des Victoires, or Our Lady of Victories, after the unification of France under Louis XIII, who prayed to the Virgin for assistance. It became a popular site for Catholic pilgrims in the early 19th century, who would offer their offerings to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The collection of ex-votos is still growing, though wall space is becoming ever more scarce.
The ex-votos come in all different forms. Most are engraved bricks purchased by the offerer for the church. They read things like “La Sainte Vierge Ma Conserve Mon Petit Garcon En Mai 1856, C Et R” (“The Holy Virgin Saved My Little Boy In May 1856 C And R”), or No. 9011, “Jai Confié Ma Barque A L’etoile De La Mer Et Elle La Hereusement Conduite Au Port, L.C.” (“I Have Entrusted My Boat To The Star Of The Sea And She Fortunately Led Her To Port, L.C.”). There is one section of beautifully forged metal hearts. Another wall holds a case of military medals, offered by the soldiers to the Blessed Mother as thanks for their lives.
We’ll never know whether these prayers were granted by divine intervention, good fortune, or simply positive intentions, but it is heartwarming to see evidence of centuries of fulfilled vows and thankful people.