Milagros are small amulets which are used as votive offerings in Latin America, Spain, and some other parts of Europe. The use of milagros in Spain dates back to at least five centuries before the birth of Christ, and the tradition endures to this day, especially in isolated communities. Many visitors to Spain and Latin America like to pick up milagros as mementos of their trips, and these small amulets are sold by many vendors, classically right outside a church.
The idea behind a milagro is that it is a physical representation of a prayer. For example, if someone is experiencing a pain in the leg, a milagro in the shape of a leg would be attached to the robe or altar of the saint during prayer, to remind the saint of the content of the prayer. In addition to being used in prayer to request something, a milagro can also be utilized in a prayer of thanks. A farmer who wishes to give thanks for the birth of a healthy foal could attach a milagro in the shape of a horse to the saint, for instance.
Milagros can be made from a wide variety of materials. Silver and gold are common, but they can also be made from clay, tin, wax, wood, and other materials. Milagros are typically very small, and they may be relatively crude representations of the physical items they stand in for, or they may be quite detailed. Many craftsmen will create custom milagros for customers who need them, and churchgoers can also buy generic milagros outside the church.
The practice of making votive offerings is ancient, and it has taken a number of forms. One of the things which makes milagros so remarkable is the fact that the tradition has endured for over two thousand years, through several changes of religion and through radical shifts in culture. The Spanish people brought milagros with them to the Americas when they explored the New World, passing the tradition on to the native people there, accidentally preserving the Native American practice of votive offerings in the process.
These folk charms are most classically associated with Catholic prayer in Spain and Latin America. In most regions, it is not advisable to remove milagros from a church, because you could interfere with someone else's prayers. Priests may periodically remove and organize the milagros which cover their saints to allow people to place new milagros, but the charms are usually handled carefully and respectfully, and they are not available for sale. If you do want to purchase milagros as souvenirs or for your own prayers, the best source is a church vendor, who can usually assure a clean provenance.