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Medieval Wax Votives at Spellbound Exhibition

It’s a good time to talk about one of the Cathedral’s lesser known rarities, a collection of medieval wax votive offerings, as they prepare to go on display at a leading museum. Our web page devoted to the votives describes them in this manner:

‘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.’

Edmund Lacy was indeed Bishop of Exeter, but prior to his appointment in Devon, he was educated at none other than University College Oxford, beginning as a Mature Commoner, and finishing as Master of the College. It seems only fitting that these votives journey to Oxford in a brand new exhibition from the Ashmolean Museum of art and archaeology.

Displaying and transporting wax votives is no easy task. The Cathedral’s Library and Archives team have been working with the Ashmolean since March 2017. To ensure conservation, permission for the loan had to be sought from special bodies, and a curator at RAMM was commissioned to travel with the votives and oversee their installation in the Ashmolean. Steps are being taken to increase access to the figures through visual media, however as the objects are incredibly fragile, they will not be on display in Exeter. If you’d like to see the figures in person, this is an excellent and very rare opportunity to do so.

‘Spellbound’ highlights the ways in which people have historically used acts of ceremony and ideas of spellcraft to find semblances of peace. Its themes range from the religious and spiritual to the beautiful and mysterious, and it promises to be a scintillating exploration of all things ritual. If you’d like to see our wax votives within the exhibition, or if you’d like to find out more about it, simply follow this link.