Tokens of Thanks: the Ex-Votos of the Bonaria Museum

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Museum of the Sanctuary of Bonaria

On the floor above the cloisters is the sanctuary’s museum.  It basically consists of a hoard of model ships, donated as ex-votos in thanks for surviving some sea-related horror.  They date from the 18th century onwards, and show all sorts of different ship types – some of them made from curious materials.

There are also many dramatic paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries which show storms and shipwrecks… and people falling off masts in calm waters.  In the corner the inscription VFGA stands for votum feci gratiam abui (I made a pledge and received grace) and PGR is for per grazia ricevuta, in thanks for prayers answered.  What is interesting is that not all the paintings relate to the sea…  Bonaria was significant for all citizens of Cagliari, not just for the seafarers.

The Mercedarian order of Bonaria was, as discussed in my previous post, significant for its efforts to liberate Sardinians, and others, taken captive by North African pirates and forced into slavery.  Some of the most striking ex-votos relate to this grim and relatively forgotten aspect of Mediterranean history.

Tucked away in a room at the back is a gruesome find – especially if you’re not expecting it.  There are four mummified bodies – three adults and a child of the noble Alagon family who died of the plague in 1604.  They are in an extraordinary state of preservation and because they’re still fully clothed you can almost ignore the fact that they are dead, exposed bodies.  Almost.  Not for long.

Anyway, here is a selection of objects I found particularly interesting.

So In Summary

Through visiting the museum, you get a very immediate sense of the strong connection that the sanctuary had with the local population and visiting sailors.  It’s wonderful to see that devotion and grateful appreciation continuing up to more recent times, often in the form of fascinating objects of real ethnographic interest, and I found the experience really quite moving.

For further information and information on how to get there, please click here for my post on the Bonaria sanctuary.

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