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What Are Retablos?

The original meaning of the word “Retablo” refers to sculptures or paintings that were placed behind altars of Catholic churches. Retablos are important to Mexican folk religion because they are physical representations of holy images such as the Christ, the Virgin Mother, or one of many other saints. Creating retablos is a way of showing appreciation to the gods for helping heal a sick family member or bringing rain to help crops grow. They come from the need most humans have, to interact on a personal level, with the divine.

Retablos also called ‘Laminas” in Spanish, historically have been painted on rectangular sheets of tin that illustrate holy images of any one, of hundreds of Catholic saints. An Ex-voto, meaning “from a vow,” is also a painting on tin. However, it is different from a Retablo because it tells a story, artistically. These stories often, recall dangerous or threatening events that actually occurred. Both retablos and ex-votos are devotional paintings that can be left behind at shrines or kept at home.

Relecarios, as devotional items, emerged from the Medieval European custom of treasuring relics and mementos of saints. Many of these objects of devotion were kept in religious lockets or unique frames fashioned and decorated with enameled silver and other precious metals and jewelry. These objects were treasured by their owners and used to invoke divine intervention or protection in times of need and danger. Mostly hand-made, the finished product demonstrates the special skill, artistry and imagination of its creator.

Collecting religious objects has always been a popular activity and a fascinating pastime among spiritually inclined art collectors.  Keeping these objects gives them a sense of inner peace and spiritual kinship with their Creator. As a dedicated Santera and lifelong, collector and creatixe of religious art I found that the reproduction of these items was something I would thoroughly enjoy doing and further, sharing with future generations.