Religious medals are medals issued for religious devotion associated with Catholic faith. Discover what is the origin of wearing a religious medal in this article.
Religious medals: the origins
Religious medals usually depict the image of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, or saints. They can also commemorate places, very important spiritual events or major historical events. They are designed to be worn around the neck or to be attached to a rosary. But what are their origins?
Religious medals in the Early Church
Wearing religious medals it’s an old tradition began very early in the history of the Church: archaeologists have discovered medals bearing images of Saints Peter and Paul & Saint Lawrence coming from the 300s.
Then, in the later part of the Roman Empire, after the emperors had become Christian, there are many coins that were stamped with the image of Christ used as devotional medals.
Scholars says that the use of religious medals redefined the pagan practice of wearing amulets, pieces of metal or other material that were thought to ward off evil or disease. The Early Church sanctified the practice, removing the perception that the charm had “power” and replacing that with the understanding that wearing a medal is intended to remind the wearer of the power of Jesus in their life.
Religious medals In the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, religious medals were distributed to pilgrims who visited sacred shrines, such as St. Peter’s in Rome, Canterbury in England and Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
In this historical period, a type of medal known as the jetons became popular. On one side there were the initials of the wearer, while the reverse side had a pious motto, such as “Love God and Praise Him,” “O Lord, Our God,” “Hail Mary, Mother of God,” or an inscription, such as IHS.
Religious medals types
Apart from the common pious medals, there are various religious medals connected with places, confraternities, religious orders, saints, mysteries, miracles, devotions, etc.
Plague medals, for example, include subjects as St. Sebastian and St. Roch, different shrines of the Virgin Mary and particular views of religious cities. They were used as a protection against pestilence.
There were also a very large number of medals struck for jubilees, centenaries, etc. or the private ones struck to commemorate events in the life of individuals like baptisms, marriages, first communions, and deaths.
The most famous religious medals
The miraculous medal
The Miraculous Medal is one of the most popular Catholic medals. The Miraculous Medal’s design was revealed by the Virgin Mary to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830: all those who wear the medal would have received great graces. Today, many who wear Miraculous Medals are also familiar with the Miraculous Medal novena which invokes the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
Saint Christopher medal
Saint Christopher medals are generally worn for protection. The legend of Saint Christopher holds that he carried a small child with incredible weight across a terrible river. When St. Christopher asked the child why he was so heavy, the child explained that he was Christ and he was heavy due to the weight of sin. Due to St. Christopher’s transportation of Christ across the river, he has been known as the patron saint of travelers for safe travel, and also the patron saint of sports for protection during sporting events.
The Four-Way medal
The Four-Way Medal is a large cross-shaped medal with a smaller medal at each of the four ends of the cross (the Miraculous Medal, a Scapular medal, the St. Joseph Medal, and the St. Christopher Medal). This Catholic medal is a very popular gift idea as one is reminded of the Cross, various saints, and more, all in one medal.
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