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Statue of St John of God, Spain, 1701-1900

You’re a wood carver in the late 1800s, making religious statues for a living. You produce these for a shrine dedicated to St John of God – what would make your statue more valuable than the others? Skilled craftsmanship? A good likeness? It was relics that really attracted the crowds. A statue was considered especially powerful if it contained a physical remnant of the saint, such as a piece of bone, or a lock of hair. Pilgrims made long and difficult journeys to get there, praying and kissing the statue in the belief that the saint would give help to the needs of body and soul. Why worship St John of God? Born João Cidade, in Portugal in 1495, he provided a free hospital for the poor people of Granada, Spain, nursing the patients himself. Did he perform miracles? He is credited with several, including saving all the patients when the hospital caught fire. Which is why he became patron saint of hospitals and the sick. So does this statue contain a relic of St John of God? Take a close look at the gold circle on his chest. The Latin inscription ‘EX BACULO S J DE DEO’ means ‘From the staff of St John of God’ – it is believed to be a splinter from the staff he carried. It’s no bodily relic, but it’s a crowd pleaser.

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Glossary: statue

A sculpture in the round representing human or animal figures or small figure groups; a statuette is a smaller sculpture.

Glossary: patron saint

A saint believed to protect or guide a place or particular group of people.