It’s a universal truth that puppies, kittens, and kids the world over are drawn to shiny objects – and we were no different. In modern adult slang this attraction is called “bling,” but for devout Christians, tiny sliver charms are called milagros or tamata.
We first encountered these shiny metal icons in elegant cathedrals or simple roadside shrines while traveling in Mexico: arms, legs, hearts, eyes, and just about any other imaginable body part. Every market had a least one booth selling these intriguing charms, so their popularity was evident, but their purpose was a total mystery to us.
So we asked.
A kindly Padre explained that milagros – Spanish for miracles – are votive offerings used in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America. The Faithful give them as a gift to a Saint as a reminder of their particular need, or in gratitude for a prayer answered.
Milagros come in countless shapes and sizes, and the images can have multiple interpretations. A heart might symbolize a prayer for love, or recovery from a heart attack. A leg may be an entreaty for the speedy healing of a broken tibia, or a plea for good luck in the upcoming football match. And a car could symbolize the wish for a safe journey … or the desire for a new car!
“These tiny silver charms are reminders that a miracle can fit in the palm of your hand…Modern day milagros may be carried in a pocket to protect from illness or harm, kept in the office to insure success, or placed in the car to avoid accidents–whenever you need a little magic in your life.”
–Milagros: A Book of Miracles by Helen Thompson
We also encountered the same sparkling objects in Greece, where they are called tamata (also meaning miracles) and are offered in the same way in the Greek Orthodox Church, as votives and requests for healing purposes.
In Vilnius, Lithuania the main Roman Catholic Cathedral has an intimate Baroque Chapel with a soaring ceiling, and flanking the ornate pulpit, bracketing the cherubs, were hundreds of these ex-votos neatly displayed.
We all need a bit of magic in our lives, so it’s understandable why this fascinating tradition is repeated around the world. In a nod to our advancing years, we bought a pair of eyes and a couple of ears, and they hang on our Christmas tree every year. We’ll keep you posted on the vision and hearing.
Terri & James