The wax votive offerings found at Exeter Cathedral….

 

wax votive offerings found at Exeter Cathedral

During the medieval period it was common for hollow beeswax votive offerings to be made in the hope of spiritual assistance in healing or at least minimizing an injury or ailment. In Exeter Cathedral, these were hung above the tomb of Bishop Edmund Lacy (c. 1370-1455), but there were other cathedrals and churches where they were placed.  

It was thought that none of these delicate items had survived, but then, in a Luftwaffe raid in May 1942, the cathedral was bombed, and when the damage was being cleared up, all sorts of things were found on top of the bishop’s tomb: “….pieces of glass, oyster shells, splinters of stone and over a thousand curious wax objects….” These curious wax objects were the votive offerings.

Formed as fingers, heads, hands, feet and even whole figures, they are wonderfully preserved and very detailed.  To read more about them, go to the Cathedral website and medievalart.co.uk. There are more sites too, of course.

At York Minster there is a window known as the St William Window, which shows just such an offering (a rather large leg) being submitted to St William of York, who was canonised in 1227.  The window is close to his shrine.

St William Window, York Minster, © Gordon Plumb

 

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