The what, why and how of health and development

Mexican Miracle Paintings at the Wellcome Collection

Mexican Miracle Paintings at the Wellcome Trust

“I was out one day and a rock fell on my leg and I prayed to the Saint Juan Diego and my leg was saved”. So goes the intrepid tale of one 19thcentury Mexican man, who commissioned a votive painting to thank the saint he believed answered his prayer that fateful day.

The votive, which hangs next to a delightful translation of the inscription detailing that day’s event, is one of hundreds on display at the Wellcome Collection as part of the gallery’s Miracles & Charms exhibition.

Votives were paintings commissioned from local artists by anyone who wanted to give thanks to a Saint they felt had saved them of some terrible fate, be it ill-health, domestic dramas, or gunshot wounds.

The artwork displayed in the Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings exhibit depicts intimate stories and dramatic experiences faced in daily Mexican life, sometimes of a questionable nature. Like the poor Mexican man who came home to find another man attacking his wife in bed. The painter, perhaps a bit more clued up, portrayed it slightly differently. Humour aside, these depictions give great insight into both the daily tribulations of Mexican communities over the past two centuries and the strength of which religion is woven into their lives.*

It has to be said, sometimes the depiction is a little shakey. I would recommend going around with a partner, covering up the translation and see what guesses you can make about what exactly is going on. Who knew faith healing could have a funny side?

Ah yes – faith healing. The exhibit does show the intricate weave between healing and religious belief right up to the modern day with a wall from Mexican church covered with images of hospitalised children and letters about ill grandfathers. In addition to the physical benefits of effective medicine, religion can be a infinite resource of strength for those who have it. However, although I am all for holistic healing, having spent last summer challenging UK faith healing missionaries in Kenya, I think I have had enough of that for now. Give me the pills, the drips, the science!

I fully recommend visiting this exhibit before it finishes on February 26 2011. While you’re there, pop up to the permanent collection of Henry Wellcome’s paintings, obstetric forceps, and other curiosities.

Click here for more information about the Miracles & Charms exhibition at the Wellcome Collection

*I know I said humour aside but don’t miss out on the video of the older woman describing the ‘miracle’ that happened to her as child when she prayed to make the perfect tortilla. In one way, you are in wonder at the power of this memory about a saintly intervention that happened so long ago. In another, you can’t help but laugh at the son sitting next to her who has definitely heard this story before.


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