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Author: Shawndrea Corbin
Issue: July, 2013, Page 38
Purchased in Mexico, this carved wooden heart from a private collection is covered in tiny milagros set in a decorative pattern.

Miracle Workers

A milagro (Spanish for “miracle”) is a religious folk charm common to Mexico, Latin America and the desert Southwest. It is considered a very personal item that is either bought, gifted or commissioned, and comes in a wide variety of designs and shapes. The charms are often used as talismans against pain, trouble and illness.

Essentially, milagros are votive offerings, which are objects displayed in or presented to a sacred place or figure to either ask for divine help or to give thanks for answered prayers. Presenting votive offerings to deities dates back to the earliest of human times and can be seen in most cultures, including Ancient Greece and Egypt. Commonly affixed to Catholic alters or shrines, or at any designated place of worship, milagros range from flat to fully dimensional, and can be crafted from wood, tin, bone, wax or even from pieces of valuable jewelry.

The most common shapes are of feet, hands, the head, heart and lungs. A milagro in the shape of a heart, for instance, can represent a renewed love or passion (a classic heart shape with flames), or the wished-for recovery of a loved one from a heart ailment (the shape of an anatomically correct heart). Increased popularity of these quaint charms in the U.S. has assimilated milagros into “pop” culture on objects such as crosses, picture frames and other decorative items.

On the pages ahead are examples of milagros, along with their history and meanings.

Milagros can represent specific people, objects or animals, or symbolize a general concept. A winged angel such as this one may be designed to honor the memory of a departed loved one or may have been blessed by a spiritual healer to be carried on a person for safety.

Discernible joints and fingernails can be seen on this hand-shaped milagro. An anatomical milagro may be defined by a different metal or ragged edge at the site of an injury.
This painted retablo from Bellas Artes de Mexico features the archangel St. Raphael, who is prayed to regarding matters of healing. The outside is covered in small antique milagros that have been nailed in place.

Three carved-wood figures from Fiesta Furnishings are adorned with tiny silver milagros. Mexican milagros originated from early Spanish conquistadors, who had adopted the pagan practice of leaving offerings for religious figures in response to answered prayers. Their religious practices were later disseminated and enforced throughout the Americas. The indigenous peoples of the region, who were no longer allowed to practice their own religions, favored the tradition of milagro offerings in particular.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: This tin heart milagro from Rustic Stuff is larger than most, and measures roughly 2"W by 3"H. The design resembles a classic “Sacred Heart of Jesus” shape with decorative edging and a flamed top. Traditionally, a person’s initials are carved or punched into the center of a design of this style. • The increased popularity of milagros has opened the door to more unconventional present-day applications, as seen in this adorned miniature chair and milagro-encrusted wooden foot, both from a private collection. • Heart-shaped milagros are perhaps the most common design. A heart with a dagger through it, as seen here, commonly denotes an unhappy love affair or loss of a loved one. • A miniature punched-tin shadow box from Bellas Artes de Mexico displays an assortment of tiny milagros behind a glass door.

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