The gaze of the picture of the merciful Jesus inadvertently deviates into two pillars rising as if into the sky, the meters of gratitude studded with votive offerings. These stories, which are often silent but have a visible sign, testify to us that Heaven is open and that the tradition of talking about the graces experienced in this way is still alive.
In Lithuanian churches, especially the older ones, it is often possible to see votive offerings hung next to some altar paintings or sculptures – silver hearts, handles, legs, plates with inscriptions or figures. In the history of the Church, votive offerings have been known since the days of early Christianity. The Latin word “votum” means wish, gift, promise, and in many European countries they are still called in Latin – “ex voto” (according to the promise given). Often in the face of difficulties, illnesses, or calamities, a person sincerely prayed for something to be heard, promised to sacrifice to God, to perform a pilgrimage, to help the poor (or other), but also to hang a visible sign of the prayer heard in the church. This is a serious commitment that is important to implement. Votive offerings could have funded churches and been donated paintings. The Church of Peter and Paul is just an example of such thanksgiving to God. But most often, votive offerings are modest, small signs of remembrance of the graces received, humbly sacrificed to God and hung on the image to which heavenly help is experienced or requested in prayer. Votive offerings appeared in Lithuania, probably together with the first churches, but the oldest ones did not survive, as they were mostly made of wax, which was later used for candles. The offerings are liked when painted on small wooden tables. Sometimes the entire altar or the walls of the chapel were hung in picturesque scenes of miracles experienced.
Later, offerings made of precious metals, usually in the form of silver parts of the human body, were spread and sacrificed in gratitude for miraculous healing, asking for help in the event of illness or disaster. All the graces experienced and the connection of unceasing love that connects man with God are symbolically expressed by the heart – the most popular and perhaps the most capacious votive offering. The XVII – XVIII century also popularized the decorating of sacred paintings or statues with various precious ornaments, necklaces, brooches, crosses or roses. This is how the images of Mary were decorated in Trakai, Vilnius, St. Michael’s Church, Gates of Dawn, and Šiluva. Not surprisingly, the sacrifice of people giving such offerings became especially common in the face of adversity in society, especially during the wars, when the only hope for salvation remained devotion to God’s grace. In previous centuries, when a large number of votive offerings had accumulated, they were often melted into picture fittings, altar crosses or other liturgical vessels made of the obtained metal. This is one of the reasons why relatively few of the oldest votive offerings have survived to the present day, most now hanging in churches created in the 19th century or 20th century’s beginning. Although the sacrifice of the offering is a sign of a very intimate human relationship with God, hanging in the church, it becomes not only an important testimony, but also a bond that is created with the help of God’s graces. Confession, testimony, and worship of miracles have long been considered an important form of gratitude for the graces experienced. To this day, the Book of Miracles written next to some miraculous paintings have survived.
The tradition of offering votive deposits in various countries of Catholic culture, as well as in Lithuania, although not as popular as in previous centuries, has survived to this day. The abundance of votive offerings in the image of Jesus’s Divine Mercy testifies to Jesus ’promise to give various graces to those who will pray with confidence in this image. People not only give thanks for the grace, the healings they experience, but sometimes respond to the call to simply give thanks for God’s accompanying intimacy and to ask for God’s blessing in the future on various occasions. Those who decide to hang an offering buy it at a religious goods store or order it from a jeweler. Some even donate their precious jewelry and negotiate with the jeweler what shape the votive offering should take to best reflect that sensitive, elusive gratitude of the heart that is so strongly surpassed by the graces experienced. The cult of the image of the Divine Mercy has already gone far beyond the borders of Lithuania and Poland, but also of Europe. Believers of different nations and different destinies are united to this altar by a stream of grace of the Lord’s mercy.