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

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.

A remnant of a Nuralgic statue, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

The coat of arms for the Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ostrich eggs from North Africa used as ex-votos by freed slaves, 17th/18th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Shackles given as an ex-voto by a freed slave, 18th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

A bone from an ox that was fashioned into a weapon and used by a slave during his escape, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia.  He offered it to the Sanctuary upon his return to Sardinia.

Posthumous portrait of Fra Carlo Catalano, founder of the Convent of Bonaria, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Posthumous portrait of Fra Carlo Catalano, founder of the Convent of Bonaria, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a man on a wine-barrel, from the lid of a chest, 18th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

View along a corridor of the Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Travelling triptych, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia.  This was used by the Mercedarians as they travelled around Sardinia raising funds.

St Laurence from the Travelling triptych, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia.  This was used by the Mercedarians as they travelled around Sardinia raising funds.

Ex-voto of a ship, 1806, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of a Cagliari football shirt, 1964, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

The original cloister well, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of a soldier, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Multiple military ex-votos, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto 16th century ship, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto, 1814, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Morse code machine, ex-voto, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex voto of a man who fell from a mast, 1856, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Galleon made out of gourds, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ship made of matchsticks, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Model galleon, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Model galleon, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Donated ships, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of rope, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

A recently given ex-voto, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Votive anchor, 1900, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia. “Donation of Her Majesty Queen Margherita, in thanks for the happy return of [The Duke of the Abruzzi] from his expedition to the North Pole.” Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, was the nephew of the Queen of Italy, Margherita. He was a celebrated explorer, famed for his Arctic and mountaineering expeditions.

Statue of Mary, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of a baby, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of a young man, early 19th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of the ex-voto of a young man, early 19th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of a young man, early 19th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ex-voto of a family, 19th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Embroidered ex-voto, 1920, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of an embroidered Our Lady of Bonaria, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Vestment, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Vestment, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Vestment, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of beautiful embroidery on a vestment from Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

An embroidered banner of Our Lady of Bonaria, 19th century, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Decorated inner lid of a chest, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of men on horses from the inside lid of a chest, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Donations by Pope Francis in 2013, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Embroidered ex-voto, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Fabric and photo ex-voto, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

Small crucifix, Museum of the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, Sardinia

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 herFair Winds and Freed Slaves: the Bonaria Church in Cagliarie for my post on the Bonaria sanctuary.

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