The use of milagros is a folk custom in parts of North, Central, and South America traceable to ancient Iberians who inhabited the coastal regions of Spain. The use of milagros accompanied the Spanish as they arrived in Central and South America. Although the custom is not as prevalent as it once was, the use of milagros or ex-votos continues to be a part of folk culture throughout rural areas of Spain—particularly Andalusia, Catalonia, and Majorca.
As part of a religious ritual or an act of devotion, milagros can be offered to a symbol of a saint as a reminder of a petitioner's particular need, or in gratitude for a prayer answered. They are used to assist in focusing attention towards a specific ailment, based on the type of charm used. Milagro symbolism is not universal; a milagro of a body part, such as a leg, might be used as part of a prayer or vow for the improvement of a leg; or it might refer to a concept such as travel. Similarly, a heart might represent ideas as diverse as a heart condition, a romance, or any number of other interpretations. Milagros are also carried for protection and good luck.
Milagros can be flat, three dimensional, tiny or large; they can be of gold, silver, wood, lead, tin, bone, wax or whatever the petitioner desires. Traditionally, milagros can be specially made by a silversmith for the occasion, or ready-made milagros can be purchased from a vendor's stand outside the church. Many milagros have been recycled by the church for when the parish priest determines that the saint's statue is over-laden with milagros, he sells them back to the religious goods vendor.
Today, one sees a variety of milagros offered for sale in New Mexico. Occasionally one can find old Peruvian, Bolivian, Guatemalan, Mexican or Ecuadorian milagros, but they are not common. Sterling silver reproductions of old milagros from all parts of Latin America, hand-finished in New Mexico, are available in various shops and museum stores.
The milagros most commonly offered for sale in New Mexico are the thumbnail-sized, silver-washed, flat Mexican milagros. Sometimes they have been tacked onto a cross made of old wood, or a wooden shoe last. While the Mexican faithful certainly have hung milagros on wooden crosses as prayer offerings, it is unlikely that the milagros crosses which one sees for sale are historical pieces; the crosses and shoe lasts are nonetheless decorative, ingenious ways of displaying a collection of milagros.
Apart from the contemporary use of milagros as decorative elements, milagros as symbols have new uses and meanings in New Mexico these days. If a friend is about to have an eye operation, the gift of a eye milagro helps to say, "I wish you well." A pair of lungs can say, "I hope your cold gets better." An arm and a leg given to a couple trying to buy a house can wish them good luck obtaining financing. An ear milagro can suggest that someone be a better listener. An axe milagro might suggest that a relationship should end.
Milagros then, are not solely religious items, nor are they only for collecting. They are part of the magical and symbolic past common to all cultures which continues to influence our lives today. Whether used traditionally or in modern ways, milagros are an ongoing part of a fascinating folk culture in New Mexico and elsewhere.
Whether you are in need of spiritual healing or just admire the beauty and intricate detail of Milagros, you can find an assortment for purchase at The Paris Market & Brocante. As the cold weather blows in and our city becomes lit with the magic of the fall season, the inspirations of outer-worldly objects enter our home and our creative minds. Stay tuned for our spooky new arrivals and our newest fall trend favorites!