Throughout history, humanity’s relationship with medicine and health has been aided by a multitude of emotional objects, from votive offerings to powerfully evocative artefacts, that are intimately connected with faith and religious beliefs.
Our new medical galleries will open their doors on 16 November and comprise some of these objects; items that require careful display, because of the high emotional charge they carry. We look at some of the treasures from our stores with the help of a handful of blogs from the archive.
5 amulets for 5 senses
Traditionally, amulets have been used to heal and protect the body from different evils and illnesses. Cultures worldwide show examples of people carrying small objects to bring about good luck, or to ward off misfortune.
A symbol of very private wishes, hopes and fears, to be worn close to one’s skin, they were a mirror of the religious beliefs of the time, but we now study them as a reflection of the socio-cultural landscape they belonged to.
Discover five amulets for five senses in this blog by Annie Thwaite, who was a Wellcome Research Secondment Fellow here at the museum in 2017-18.
An eye-catching collection
Amongst the most surprising finds in Henry Wellcome’s collection, which the Science Museum cares for, is a large number of anatomical votive offerings of terracotta and marble. The collection ranges from heads, abdominal viscera, feet, breasts, and wombs, to genitalia, eyes, and ears.
These items would have been brought to sanctuaries and shrines to express thanks or request healing or fertility from the gods believed to reside there. Since they were not destroyed but packed in small rooms, or buried in sacred pits, there is an abundance of votives allowing us to infer which were the most common illnesses and ailments in the ancient world.
See a selection of votives in this blog by Content Coordinator Ulrika Danielsson.
Saints on the shelves
When you think of a medical collection, shelves packed with statues of saints aren’t the first thing that spring to mind.
Many Christians, however, have long believed that saints are able to plead with God on their behalf, and that particular saints can give protection against specific illnesses.
Follow Curator of Medicine Selina Hurley in a whistle-stop tour of the Science Museum’s stores in this blog from 2010.
Inspired by what you’ve read today? Visit the Science Museum this autumn and explore a season of free exhibitions and events that continues this conversation and asks the big questions.