Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Faye V. Harrison

Committee Members

Rosiland J. Hackett, Benita Howell, Steve Young


The religious tradition of offering anatomical votive images out of wood or clay has long been practiced in the impoverished state of Ceara, Brazil and is still a vital tradition at the Sanctuary of St. Francis of Wounds in Caninde. This study documents the ex-voto ritual, examining the carvings as works of art embodying the prayers of the subaltern, subordinated within interlocking hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, and gender; and discerns what this popular ritual practice encodes about its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. It also examines, from the perspective of the Northeast's impoverished people, what the offered anatomical artifacts reveal about the social body.

This is a multivocal tradition elucidating encoded values and meanings which relate to research involving folk aspects of religious belief systems, ethnomedical strategies, and cultural domination and resistance. This research probes issues of art and material culture, often overlooked in ethnography, as central components of holistic inquiry. As such, the ex-voto tradition is discovered to provide functions of reciprocity and solidarity and can be seen as emblematic of the culture of its practitioners.

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