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Arts & Culture

University Of Dayton Library Showcases Catholic Artifacts From Around The Globe

Jounreys of Faith Graphic.jpg
Ryan O'Grady & Ann Zlotnik
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The Marian Library

The Marian Library at the University of Dayton has thousands of books and artifacts about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The library’s new exhibit, "Journeys of Faith," displays items from Catholic shrines and festivals all over the world. The goal is to show why people go on pilgrimages and to capture a snapshot of Catholic tourism through the ages.

Curator Kayla Harris tells WYSO’s Jason Reynolds that the exhibit has a little bit of everything, from priceless artifacts to Virgin Mary Aerosol Air Freshener…

Cross and Ex-Votos at the "Journeys of Faith" exhibit at the Marian Library
Jason Reynolds
A cross and ex-votos at the "Journeys of Faith" exhibit.

HARRIS: People haven’t been traveling as much because of COVID, for good reasons, and so partly what inspired this exhibit is letting people travel vicariously through others that have done so before them and seen the different shrines and things people bring back from shrines from around the world.

REYNOLDS: When you were putting this exhibit together, what places really stood out to you? Which shrine or festival did you find most fascinating or most meaningful?

HARRIS: One shrine that was really interesting to me is the Holy House of Loreto in Italy. The legend says that the Holy House that Mary and Joesph and Jesus lived in was flown by angels to Italy! It made a couple stops along the way, but the end point was that it supposedly ended up in Italy.

So, it’s this really popular destination point for pilgrims, and there’s a house inside a basilica, and people go there, and then there’s a statue people see. We had a lot of really unique materials from Loreto, like some Holy Cards because there’s a tradition at Easter where the statue has a veil put over her. Then, after Easter is over the veil is taken and cut up and kind of glued to Holy Cards and given as souvenirs to pilgrims. I thought it was really neat how it’s this tangible piece of the shrine or the tradition that you get to take home with you after visiting the site.

REYNOLDS: And I noticed throughout the exhibit people don’t just bring things back from these shrines, they leave things to thank the Blessed Mother for helping them out or performing miracles. Can you tell me about some of those ex-votos that they leave? Is that what they’re called?

A fan from Vietnam that celebrates Mary.
Ryan O'Grady & Ann Zlotnik
A Vietnamese fan featuring the Blessed Mother.

HARRIS: Yes, I find ex-votos really fascinating. There’s this really neat connection with shrines and healing or miracles, and especially in premodern times that was what people went to. Instead of going to the doctor, you went to the shrine and received your miracle.

So, ex-votos can take on many different forms. They can be pressed metal, kind of little, tiny charm-like things, or even paintings depicting a story. So, we have some really fascinating examples in the exhibit of ex-votos showing different miracles that people believe occurred because of a visit or because of a prayer to a saint or the Virgin Mary

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Ryan O'Grady & Ann Zlotnik
A midcentury poster promoting a play about Mary.

REYNOLDS: They often look like, almost like sculptures of missing body parts, like an arm or a leg or eyes.

HARRIS: Right! They can. To an outsider, they can look a little scary in a sense when you kind of see these disembodied parts hanging. But they serve as a tangible reminder to the next generation of visitors. So, when a visitor goes to a shrine and they see all these pieces, these ex-votos hanging, it’s this reassurance that this shrine or these saints have produced miracles. And so you’re supposed to be inspired about that.

And yeah, the body parts: there might be a leg or something because maybe you had an illness or a broken foot or something and it healed. So, it just corresponds to whatever the miracle was.

REYNOLDS: Catholicism doesn’t have mandatory pilgrimages, but with all saints and shrines, it seems like a faith that gives itself to making pilgrimages, or at least touring the sites. Now that you’ve seen so many of them, what makes a really great shrine or festival? What’s magnetic about it? What makes people drawn to it?

HARRIS: I think the presence of other people. I mean, that’s kind of a non-answer in a sense, but I think what really is important at these shrines is that sense of community and being in community with others, and that’s really central to Catholicism, too. And so, especially right now, as we’re still in this pandemic, shrines around the world have been out of sorts in a sense, because people haven’t been able to travel and be in close proximity with others, and that’s a really important way that people express their faith, is by being together with others.

"Journeys of Faith" runs through January, 2021.

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Jason Reynolds