Votive Offerings Through The Millennia

Archaeologists are very careful to identify to whom an ancient temple is dedicated until they have concrete evidence (and I don’t just mean concrete in the sense of stone!). In Siracusa, for example, we know that the temple to Apollo on Ortigia is for Apollo because there is an inscription on the east-facing stairs stating it is for Apollo. In Agrigento, the renowned temple is called the “Tempio di Concordia” as a nickname because no evidence of to whom that temple was dedicated exists.

In the case of the Sanctuary for Demeter and Persephone that I posted yesterday, finding thousands of terracotta votive statuettes identified the site. Votives (pictured) offered as a vow or intention to supernatural entities have been used for centuries and throughout the world. Pictured above are votives of the fertility and agricultural goddess Demeter found at Piazza della Vittoria in Siracusa during the excavations in the 1970s and 1980s. She is identified because of holding the piglet, which recalls the rites celebrated during the important Thesmophoria agricultural festival when the sacrificing of pigs is among the religious rituals practiced in her honor.

To put these ancient offerings in perspective, below are votives from today that pilgrims coming to visit the Madonna of the Tears at her sanctuary here can purchase and offer or bring home for one’s personal altar. Seeing such objects side by side shows us that so many of our human practices have existed for millennia.

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