Medals Catholics Wear

Perhaps the surest sign of a Catholic is that he wears a medal of his favorite saint or indicating a specific devotion.

Patron Saint Medals

Your patron saint can be one who shares your name or your interests. Girls named Teresa might wear medals of St. Teresa of Calcutta or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Nurses call St. Agatha their patron, and Boy Scout leaders look to St. George for guidance. Catholics wear medals of their patron saints as symbols of their dedication to the saints’ ideals.

The practice of wearing patron saint medals dates back to at least 1200. On January 18 of that year, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter granting the canons (clergy engaged in prayer) of Old St. Peter’s Basilica the exclusive right to sell medals that he referred to as “signs [made] of lead or pewter impressed with the image of the Apostles Peter and Paul.”1 Pope Innocent III knew that wearing medals would remind Catholics of their Faith.

Medals Recalling Special Events and Patron Saints

Bishops and pastors often issue medals to commemorate special events, such as the establishment of a new parish or the anniversary of a religious organization. These medals may be blessed and sent with holy cards to the faithful. At times, priests sign these holy cards with a cross (+). The cross before or after the signature of a priest symbolizes that he is sending his blessing. It is a custom that began during the days when priests were responsible for large territories and were often too far away to bestow blessings in person. One of the most famous persons to use this symbol was John Joseph Hughes, the first archbishop of New York. Archbishop Hughes was called “Dagger John” because he signed his name with a cross, and, more significantly, he was also known as a man who should not be crossed.

The Miraculous Medal

Among the most popular and recognizable of religious articles is the Miraculous Medal. In 1830, twenty-four-year-old Catherine Labouré, a member of the Sisters of Charity, had a vision of the Blessed Mother. Catherine reported that Mary showed her a design and said, “Have a medal made after this model. Great blessings will come to those who wear the medal and say often the words that are on it.” It took two years to gain approval to produce the medals. Originally called the Immaculate Conception Medal, the name was changed seven years later, when many miracles and acts of goodwill were associated with it.

The front of the Miraculous Medal has a picture of Mary with her foot on a serpent. That image represents triumph over evil. Mary’s hands send down rays of blessings. The words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” are printed around the image. The back of the medal has a cross, the letter M (representing Mary), and images of the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary, pierced by a sword in memory of her Son’s Crucifixion. There are twelve stars around the images, representing the twelve apostles.

Some antique dealers advertise that they are selling a Miraculous Medal that was made in 1830 or a rosary with an embedded Miraculous Medal that was made in 1830. That, however, cannot be true. The first Miraculous Medals were not made until 1832, and they were not used as the center medals of rosaries until after 1880. Every Miraculous Medal, no matter when it was made, bears the date 1830, the year in which Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré.

St. Benedict Medal

The St. Benedict medal is rich in symbolism. It is unknown when the first St. Benedict medal was struck, but today’s most popular medal dates back to 1880, when a newly designed medal was struck at St. Martin Archabbey in Beuron, Germany, to commemorate the fourteen hundredth anniversary of St. Benedict’s birth. On the front of the medal is an image of St. Benedict, holding in his right hand a cross — a symbol of evangelization — and in his left hand his Rule. On either side of him are depictions of failed attempts to poison him: a cup of poisoned wine, which broke when St. Benedict made the Sign of the Cross over it, and a raven about to carry off a poisoned loaf of bread. Above these symbols are the words Crux s. patris Benedicti (the cross of our holy father Benedict). Around the figure of St. Benedict are the words Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!). Below St. Benedict is the date 1880 in roman numerals.

The back of the medal has a large cross on whose arms are the initials of this Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!) Above and below the cross are the letters C S P B, which stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict). At the top is the Benedictine motto Pax (peace), and around the circle are the letters V R S N S M V — S M Q L I V B, the initial letters of a prayer of exorcism: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!) The medal is meant to be used to call down God’s blessing and protection, through the intercession of St. Benedict, and to be a reminder to reject all evil and to carry our cross daily and walk in God’s ways.

Originally posted 2019-05-17 17:21:23.