This icon is an excellent work of the 17th c. and the silvering was donated by Nicolaos Mavrogenis and made in Bucarest in 1788. Jewellery, watches, wedding rings, military stripes, flowers, plants, a baby in swaddling clothes, a heart, two wedding wreaths bear witness to the pilgrims’ faith.
Silver vessel, votive offering from the collection of Michalis Roubanos that he donated to the Byzantine Museum of Ekatontapiliani.
Silver votive offerings in the shape of praying figure, eye and saint.
The oldest votive offering is the sailing boat on the Icon of Panaghia Ekatontapiliani which is kept at the Museum. This icon is an offering by the ship’s captain who, at a time of danger, made a vow to the Holy Mother.
Text: Avgi Kalogianni
Upon entering the Holy Pilgrimate of Ekatontapiliani and seeing the numerous votive offerings one can realize the extent of people’s faith in the miraculous intervention of the Saints and the Holy Mother.
Jewellery, gold items, watches, wedding rings, photos, military stripes, flowers, plants, candles, a baby in swaddling clothes, a heart, two wedding wreaths. Wishes fulfilled and others in anticipation, a note with the word “Thanks”… An expression of worship. Many votive offerings are transient, like the pilgrims who offered them, while others remain for years in the holy place, as tangible expressions of worship or as evidence of miracles. Most of the votive offerings are anonymous -a leg, a hand, a woman. An offering can simply be a bottle of oil for a saint’s oil lamp, especially for the oil lamp of St Arsenius, the beloved patron saint of Paros. A vow can also be a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a journey of a lifetime, especially in bygone years.
“The first and greatest votive offering here”, we are told by father Christos Petropoulos who is a priest at the Holy Pilgrimage of Ekatontapiliani, “is the church itself, a major vow made by St Helen on her journey to Jerusalem in search of the Holy Cross. The next oldest one is the sailing boat on the Icon of Panaghia Ekatontapiliani which is kept at the Museum. This icon is an offering by the ship’s captain who, at a time of danger, made a vow to the Holy Mother”. Some icons are laden with offerings, an indication of the believers’ preference to icons sanctified by the power of prayer and the grace of the Saint depicted on them.
“A vow is a plea. First, we appeal to our Christ but as it is difficult to reach this highest step, we go slowly, that is, we first appeal to our saints who are more popular and they are close to us, then to our Lady and in this way our prayers reach the throne of Christ, who in fact delivers on the vows”, father Christos adds.
Doubtless, all this is temporary and ephemeral, mere material things. God doesn’t need objects, what He wants is that we work for spiritual change and the redemption of our soul. In simple words, a vow is our deal with God. However, vows should not be given thoughtlessly, we should never promise things we shan’t be able to do. Not even a priest can intervene. He can’t tell you that if you can’t fulfil your vow, don’t do it. If you make a vow you must fulfil it. Don’t forget the saying: “Never promise to a child, to a loony or a saint!”.
Do the votive offerings remain on the icons forever?
“The gold items” father Christos tells us, “after the theft attempt, are kept at the Church’s vault. In special occasions, however, the Church can sell them, as it did during the 1821 Revolution to help the nation. Here, at Ekatontapiliani, we sold some valuable offerings when we founded the nursing home in 2006.”.
Vows and votive offerings are probably as old as the human race. They feature in all civilizations through the centuries. The offerings and the sacrifices of animals at the ancient Greek shrines along with the offerings in the Greek orthodox churches bear witness to the fact that an offering, as a religious and social phenomenon, involves man’s need for God’s support, faith and a certainty for the miraculous results of the offering.
A votive offering is something one pledges to the saints in return for a wish at a critical moment or as a token of gratitude for its fulfilment.
A votive offering as a ritual item, is assigned the sublime task of mediating the relationship between the people and the saints, by representing and materializing this relationship and its function.
Vows and votive offerings make up a common and universal behaviour in cases of danger or great need, a ritual man will not easily give up, despite the secularisation of the present-day society.