The Ex-Votos of Churubusco
These unusual paintings give thanks to the saints and deities who granted people favors and miracles.
During the 19th and early-20th centuries, people who obtained some miracle or heavenly favor traditionally expressed their gratitude in a painting. Today, a room of the Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones shows the most curious of these paintings from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) collection.
Although the museum is actually dedicated to telling the story of foreign interventions throughout the history of Mexico, this particular exhibition aims to educate visitors about Mexican religious life, which is fitting, as the museum is located in what was once a convent.
The paintings displayed are called “ex-votos” because they were offered to the heavenly deities in gratitude for a favor or miracle granted. The artwork illustrates the moment in which the miracle occurred, the divinity or saint to whom it is offered, and a small text that tells what happened.
This type of painting was hung in the churches throughout the country, though the tradition waned after the beginning of the 20th century. It wasn’t the Mexican nationalism movement of the 1940s, when people stopped making ex-votos and many were chucked in the trash, that the tradition became seen as a form of Mexican folk art and the surviving collections were sent to museums.
The ones in this museum are memorable. There’s one of a man who survived a fall through two floors, and another showing a group of women who survived when a lightning bolt struck beside them. One depicts a man who got out of prison after accidentally running over two girls with a tram, and even one showing a man who survived a battle of the Mexican Revolution because his mother entrusted him to a saint. The artistic technique and spelling mistakes make the paintings unusual and quite amusing.
Not for nothing, at present, there are those who make parodies of these interesting artwork, creating images that thank the saints for rescuing them from a UFO abduction or for not being discovered with a lover. Many of these parodies are sold in craft markets.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free on Sundays.
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