Recently, I was cleaning up a box of our things from Dubai and came across a button that I bought at the Vadstena Abbey Church after we completed (well, almost completed, more on this later) our pilgrimage from Söderköping to Vadstena, Sweden in 2005.
The button, shown below, reads "I have seen it!" ("Jag har sett den!") and refers to a small figure painted on the ceiling above the second pillar to the left of the nave of the church. (If you manage to go there, just ask someone to show it to you.)
This type of figure is known as an orant. An orant is a type of gesture used during prayer where the hands are raised and set apart, with the palms facing outward.
Photo: Erik Eric Ricknell
The orant is a common motif in early Christian art, used mainly from about the third century onwards, for example, in the catacombs of Rome. The figure is often a woman, sometimes on her knees, with her arms outstretched and palms facing outward.
Nowadays, the gesture is most common in charismatic and Pentecostal churches. It is also an element of Catholic worship and it used in certain types of exorcism rituals.
I cannot help but wonder if this little figure is an orant or a fine example of medieval graffiti. Did one of the fresco painters want to leave his (or her) mark on Vadstena Abbey Church?
In any case, the button is a nice example of effective marketing, and without a doubt, one of the most remarkable souvenirs I have from any church.