Medieval wax ‘votive offerings’

Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives contain a number of unique books, documents and objects. Among the latter are the remains of moulded ‘votive offerings’ made of hollow beeswax, which were hung around the tomb of Bishop Edmund Lacy (c. 1370-1455) by pilgrims seeking cures through the bishop’s saintly influence. One complete female figure (about 20 cm. high) survives intact. The other pieces are smaller fragments, many of which represent individual limbs, human and animal, according to the part of the body which was afflicted. (Lacy himself suffered from disease in his legs in later life.) There are 1,058 pieces in total, as well as some of the twisted and waxed threads used to hang them.

Lacy became Bishop of Exeter in 1420, having accompanied his friend Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). Pilgrimage to his tomb in Exeter Cathedral was one of the practices swept away by the reforming zeal of Dean Simon Heynes (d. 1552), and the tomb (still to be seen on the north side of the quire) was defaced. The wax images were rediscovered behind a stone canopy above it during repair work to the cathedral following the bomb damage in 1942. They are of great importance as there are no other survivals of this kind in Great Britain.

3D images have been made of nine of the largest and most complete figures using equipment at the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Laboratory. This will allow reproductions to be made, and the public to use the image to explore the marvellously detailed figures using digital technology.

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