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Medal Use in the Early Church And Today

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Since the second century, the early church has used medals in religious practices.  Some people, especially non-Christians, view this practice as sacrilege or paganism.  Although paganism does us medals in its practices, their purpose is very much different.

 

A pagan's belief is that the “amulet” possesses powers or magic whereas the early church used medals to remember their devotion to the One True God.

 

Medals have been used in the early church since shortly after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  A medal baring the images of Peter and Paul was discovered on an archaeological  dig dating back to the second century.  Another medal discovery was dated around the fourth century.  This medal is believed to be a depiction of St. Lawrence's martyrdom.  Many other medals have been found dating between the 300AD and 700AD proving the early church used medals.

 

It seems the use of religious medals died out between the 8th and 12th centuries.  Perhaps due to church persecution.  But, whatever the reason, they reemerged in the  latter part of the 13th century with the conversion of the Roman Empire.  Coins began to be stamped with the image of Jesus Christ or the baptism of children.  These coins were widely used in devotional practices at this time.  They began wearing these to show their devotion to God and a reminder of their bond to Jesus Christ.  They were also worn for other reminders of devotion.  There are many examples, but one stands out  recorded in the 5th century.

 

St. Genevieve, around 429AD, was consecrated to to God as a virgin by St. Germain of Auxerre.  He bestowed a medal upon her as a reminder of her vow to God of chastity as he foretold her future.  She then predicted that if the people of Paris would pray and fast, it would thwart the barbarian armies from attacking.

 

After the 13th century, a medal called the “Jetton” was crafted.  It served as an identification tag that was also inscribed with religious sayings.  The most common of which were the letters I.H.S. - a form of writing Jesus' Name.  Other inscriptions included, “Love God and Praise Him”, “O Lord, Our God”, and “Hail Mary, Mother of God”.

 

By the 16th century, St. Pope Pius V began the commonly known practice of blessing devotional medals.  This quickly swept through the Christian community and continues even today.  The medals bore the images of Jesus and Mary.

 

As well as in the early church, people use devotional medals today as a sacramental part of their religious practices.  These medals have been used since the dawn of the Christian era to help remind Christians of their devotion.  The Saint Medals have the same basing.

 

The Christian who bares a particular saint medal is showing devotion to the ways of that saint.  Not the saint him/herself.  The Bible says to pray for one another.  Therefore the Christian is using the saint as an intercessor.  Not praying to the saint, but asking the saint to pray for them as a friend already in heaven.  And, hence, the use of medals in the early Catholic church.

 

This article was published on Tuesday 29 September, 2009.



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