Votive Offerings of the Kidney
Gary Eknoyan, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.
Offerings to the deities, in return for favors asked or received, have been at the root of religious practice from the earliest of times. As medicine, with its origins in religion and folk magic, began to acquire its own deities, the sick began to address their oblations directly to the healing gods. There seems to have been rudiments of monotheism at the start of this process as Egypitians called into existence Imhotep and the Greeks, Aesculapius. With the progress of medicine, elements of specialized practice began to appear in Roman medicine, and with it the worship of deities for specific illness: Febris for fever, Angeronia for plague, Uterina for female organ dysfunction, Osterina for bone disease, Carna for abdominal organs, etc. Following the emergence and spread of Christianity, monotheism established itself and oblations for the sick were now made to God in churches.
A more recent one is found in the Basilica of San Antonio in Padua, Italy (Figure, right) . The difference in detail between these two reproductions is minor and in no way reflects how far we have come in our understanding of the kidney in health and disease during the interval in which each was carved at the request of a faithful believer.