When I was planning a trip to Lourdes several years ago, a friend who had been there before warned me about all the stores selling Virgin Mary merchandise outside the shrine. “You’ll love the shrine and hate the shops outside,” she said.
She was right about the shrine and wrong about the shops, which I absolutely loved. Embarrassingly so. I shopped more in Lourdes than I had in the previous year. I adored the statues, the trinkets, the rosaries, the key chains, and the plastic water bottles shaped like Mary. I bought trinkets for me. I bought gifts for all my friends. Then I bought extras for all the friends I thought I might make in the next decade who might want to have a souvenir from Lourdes.
Part of what I loved about those trinkets is the knowledge that every person can take home a bit of the shrine. I like to think of all those little souvenirs sitting on car dashboards, tucked into the handbags of people entering the hospital, and perched on the nightstands of people in nursing homes.
And something similar is true of religious souvenirs in general, I think. While some are meant to be purely satirical (I enjoy a set of boxing nuns just as much as most people), the best ones capture in some way the spirit of a holy place and allow us to take a bit of it home with us. Others are simply gloriously weird, and that’s O.K. too.
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My friend Wendy has a truly inspiring collection of religious souvenirs. Here are some of her favorites:
Jesus as diet coach:
And as a fashion adviser:
Here’s Wendy’s Pepto-Bismol Jesus:
And her Bouncy Jesus (which was hard to take pictures of because he kept moving):
My friend Doug sent this picture from Idaho. I realize it’s not a souvenir, but it’s too good not to include:
I saw this blue-eyed Jesus in Jerusalem’s Old City. Doesn’t he look like he needs a cigarette?
In Tel Aviv, Israel, I found this handy Holy Bible napkin holder (left). For interfaith households, you can pair it with a Star of David napkin holder (right).
Here’s the best religious souvenir I picked up in Germany: socks that bear Martin Luther’s immortal phrase “Here I stand. I can do no other.” How could one possibly argue with the truth of this sentiment while sporting such attractive footwear? The good folks in Wittenberg, Germany, told me that they were at a loss for Luther-related souvenirs until they came up with these socks. You can also buy Luther Beer and Luther Bonbons in Wittenberg, but these socks take the prize.
At a lawn ornament store in Missouri I saw this pair of statues. I like the statue of Jesus, but that clown is just creepy.
Melanie Griffin contributes this item, bought in a stall outside the Vatican. It bears the image of Pope John Paul II on one side and St. Peter’s Basilica on the other. The best thing about it is its name: The Popener.
Julia Babos suggested I check out this website (which is in Hungarian): Papanyaloka. I have no idea what the website is about, but it has some memorable items, like this Mother Teresa Breath Mist.
I found this St. Peregrine statue at the Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin. Because Peregrine was healed of a cancer on his leg, he is the patron saint of those with cancer. A beautiful story and important saint. Great legs, too.