Often when we think of Catholic medals, we think of medals showing a saint, Blessed Mary or a crucifix. However some medals also show historical events. Below are four medals in the Rosa Mystica Medals collection which are saint medals but also a lesson in history.
The front of this French medal shows Saint Joan of Arc on a rearing horse holding a sword and a banner. Joan was a warrior who fought the English who were in an alliance with Burgundy and controlled most of France. She had received visions telling her to help Charles VII, the true king of France, reclaim his throne.
It is on the back of the medal, which provides the history lesson. In 1430 after many victories, Joan was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English. She was tried as a heretic by an ecclesiastical court and sentenced to death by burning at the stake. This tragic event is presented on the back of the medal. Joan is shown standing on a pile of wood that is being lit. The French inscription at the bottom of the medal says “Burned in Rouen 1431.” In 1456 her case was retried, and she was found innocent. Alas 23 years too late.
This medal was struck in 1913 in commemoration of Pope Pius X’s speech celebrating the 1700the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which was instituted by Emperor Constantine legalizing Christianity in the Roman empire. The front of the medal shows Pope Pius X, Constantine and St Helen, Constantine’s mother who as a devout Christian who prayed for Constantine’s conversion.
The back of the medal shows Constantine having a vision the night before the battle at the Milvian Bridge. This vision is what led to the Edict of Milan and the answer to Helen’s prayers.
On October 28, 312 a battle between the Roman Emperors Constantine and Maxentius took place at the Milvian Bridge to determine who would be the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. On the eve of the battle Constantine had a vision, and in the vision he saw a cross of light in the heavens and the inscription, “By this symbol you will conquer.” He took this as a sign from God and had the symbol of the cross put on his soldiers’ shields, and the rest is history. Constantine won the battle and became the sole Roman Emperor. Because of his vision and subsequent victory, he began his journey to conversion and legitimizing Christianity.
The reverse side of the medal shows St Clare of Assisi holding up a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament as she stands on a parapet. Behind her are two nuns and below her are several people. In 1224, Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, came to plunder Assisi. In an effort to protect the city, Clare went out to the city gate to meet Frederick’s army with the Blessed Sacrament in her hands. Upon seeing Clare, the army was filled with terror and fled. The medal shows this brave act of Clare, which saved her beloved Assisi.
St Stephen is the first Christian martyr. As told in the Acts of the Apostles, Stephen was a deacon of the early church in Jerusalem where his preaching and wisdom frustrated the Jewish leaders. They accused him of “speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God” and false witnesses spoke out against Stephen.
As a result of the false accusations, the crowd attacked Stephen. The back of the St Stephen medal shows the stoning of Stephen by the mob. While not an uplifting history story, it is a wonderful lesson of love and forgiveness. Stephen’s last words were “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” A young man named Saul held the coats of the people gathering stones. He later converted and became St Paul.