Religious Medals

A piece of metal (gold, silver, copper, etc.) fashioned in the form of a coin but not circulated as money. Struck to commemorate a religious event, person, or idea, Christian medals are probably to be traced back to the custom, practiced in the Roman Empire, of issuing special coins at temples on which was an inscription of a god, and to the custom of wearing a talisman. John Chrysostom, for example, reproached Christians in his day for wearing medals of Alexander the Great. Only by the ninth century did medals effectively enter the church. In the British Museum there is a gold coin of Wigmund, archbishop of York (b.837), which has on the reverse side a cross in a wreath and the legend MVNVS DIVINUM. At the Renaissance the medallic art was quickly revived and from the sixteenth century a whole series of medals depicting popes, the Virgin Mary, saints, and even Christ have been issued by the Vatican, by heads of religious houses, and at shrines.