Votive deposit

Votive deposit

A votive deposit or votive offering is an object left in a sacred place for ritual purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favour with supernatural forces. Votive offerings have been described in historical Roman era and Greek sources, although similar acts continue into the present day, for example the modern day practice of tossing coins into a wishing well or fountain.

Ancient offerings

In Europe votive deposits date to the Neolithic, with polished axe hoards, reaching a peak in the late Bronze Age. High status artifacts such as swords and spearheads were apparently buried or more commonly cast into bodies of water or peat bogs, whence they could not possibly have been recovered. Often all the objects in a ritual hoard are broken, 'killing' the objects to put them even further beyond utilitarian use before deposition. The purposeful discarding of valuable items such as swords and spearheads is thought to have therefore had ritual overtones. The items have since been found in rivers, lakes and former wet-places (now drained by modern agriculture) by metal-detectorists, members of the public and archaeologists.

In Mesoamerica, votive deposits have been recovered from the Olmec site of El Manati (dated to 1600-1200 BC) and the Maya Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza (850-1550 AD).

In archaeology, votive deposits differ from hoards in that although they may contain similar items, votive deposits were not intended for later recovery.

Curse tablets

A curse tablet or defixio is a small sheet of tin or lead on which a message wishing misfortune upon someone else was inscribed. The tablet was subsequently rolled up and thrown into a well or spring. Hundreds of such tablets have been recovered from places such as Aquae Sulis, a Roman bath in England.


The use of votive offerings are found in the Tanakh. The Torah makes provision for "free-will offerings" which may be made by any individual. When Solomon built his temple he provided a number of furnishings above and beyond what had been commanded to Moses on Mount Sinai (see Temple of Solomon).

Oral tradition in Rabbinic Judaism also speaks of a huge golden grape vine which adorned the outside of the Temple in Jerusalem before its destruction by the Romans ["Midot" iii. 8.] .


The tradition of votive offerings has been carried into Christianity in both the East and the West.

Eastern Christianity

According to Sacred Tradition, after Constantine the Great's conversion and subsequent victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he donated one of the crosses he carried in battle to the Church. This cross is reputed to be preserved on Mount Athos.

One of the most famous Orthodox votive offerings is that by Saint John of Damascus. According to tradition, while he was serving as Vizier to the Caliph, he was falsely accused of treachery and his hand was cut off. Upon praying in front of an icon of the Theotokos his hand was miraculously restored. In thanksgiving, he had a silver replica of his hand fashioned and attached it to the icon ("see image at left"). This icon is preserved at Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos.

Orthodox Christians continue to make votive offerings to this day, often in the form of "tamata", metal plaques symbolizing the subject of their prayers. Other offerings include, candles, prosphora, wine, oil, or incense. In addition, many will leave something of personal value, such as jewelry, a pectoral cross or military decoration as a sign of devotion.

Western Christianity

In the Roman Catholic Church offerings were made either to fulfill a vow made to God for deliverance, or a thing left to a Church in gratitude for some favor that was granted. Today votives can be lit candles, or offered flowers, statues, vestments, and of course donations.

Ancient examples include:

* Henry III of England had a golden statue of his queen made and placed on the shrine of St. Edward at Westminster
* A falcon in wax at the shrine of St. Wulstan by Edward I
* A diamond and a ruby, adorning the tomb of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury
* Numerous crutches, left in the grotto at Lourdes
* The song "O Wilhelme, pastor bone" composed by John Taverner is a Votive Antiphon dedicated to Cardinal Wolsey


ee also

*Grave goods
*Votive candle
*Votive site
*Foundation deposit

External links

* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15509a.htm Votive Offerings on the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917)]

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