Religious pictures and statues are often believed to have supernatural powers, such as an ability to protect, heal, or grant some other blessing to the faithful. Shown here are small souvenir models of two such figures from Catholic shrines, one from Belgium, the other Spain.
At left is a small copy of a wooden figure of the Virgin Mary at Scherpenheuvel (which means "Sharp Hill"), one of the most frequented pilgrimage sites in Belgium. There, in the Dark Ages, a great oak tree was a "center of superstitious practices" (according to a church brochure). In the fourteenth century a wooden figure of the Virgin was attached to the tree as a sort of makeshift shrine, which later became the site of a chapel and (in the 17th century) a basilica. The statue is venerated as "The Miraculous Virgin," and healings and other reputed miracles are attributed to it.
The small painted-plaster statue on the right is the image of St. James, one of Jesus' apostles. It copies a huge statue in a church in Santiago, Spain, supposedly built over the relics of James, son of Zebedee (Santiago, incidentally, means "Saint James"). The church is at the end of a famous pilgrimage route, the subject of Shirley MacLaine's book, The Camino (2000). Pilgrims stand in line to hug the neck of the figure and thus hope to obtain good luck or perhaps to secure a healing or other miracle.