A Saint Medal,
to devout Catholics, is like a photograph of a beloved friend
or relative, a reminder of someone we love and know loves us. We finger these
medals in much the same way as we touch the frame of a portrait, as a sign of
affection or devotion to the person portrayed. Those cherished photographs are
as unique as the people they represent. If we could peek into peoples wallets,
we would see a diverse collection of characters smiling out from the pictures:
camera shy children, busy working mothers, and confidant businessmen to name a
few. The holy people depicted in saint medals are just as varied as the people
we have known and loved in life. There is Saint Monica, the patient mother, St.
Joan of Arc, the soldier, St. Thomas Moore, the lawyer, St. Bernadette, the visionary
child. Each is so unique there does not fail to be one we can identify with or
admire, seeking to emulate their virtues. In fact, during two of the Catholic
Churchs seven sacraments, Baptism and Confirmation, the candidate takes
a saints name after which to model him or herself. When we are baptized,
our parents choose the name for us. When we join the Church of our own accord
in Confirmation, we can adopt another saints name, one whose life or virtues
we wish to imitate. It is during one of these two celebrations that we Catholics
often receive our first saint medal, a gift to commemorate our naming.
of which saint medals are one example, have a long
religious history that, in fact, precedes the birth of the Catholic Church. The
practice of wearing saint medals probably had its origins in Greece and Rome,
where it is known citizens would wear amulets honoring their various gods around
their necks. It seems that early Catholics adopted this practice, changing it
so that the medals worn would honor Christian martyrs. Certain coin-like objects
have been found in the catacombs, attesting to this practice. Also, a second century
medal with Peter and Pauls heads cast on one side of it was excavated in
Italy in modern times. The wearing of saint medals is unexplainably absent during
the Middle Ages, not to be seen again until the 12th century when different Catholic
shrines began manufacturing their own medals out of lead to be given as souvenirs
of a pilgrims visit. These medals were worn upon the hat or chest and their
use continued until the 16th or 17th century when they were replaced by more artistic
medals done in bronze or silver.
a saints medal
is a way of honoring that person who has died. Catholics
inherited the custom of honoring the dead from the Jewish tradition of building
shrines to honor prophets and other holy people. The first Catholics who were
permitted to build churches, named them after apostles and martyrs, a practice
that continues in our time. Unlike the Jews, however, Catholics honor their most
holy people with portraits and statues as well.
precursor of wearing saint medals
is the reverence shown saints
and martyrs relics. Catholics believed that touching a bone or piece of
clothing that had been worn by a holy person carried the same strength as touching
the saint himself. The relic could bring about healings or answer prayers. There
is evidence of even the earliest Christians wearing relics or little crosses around
their necks. Unfortunately the strong belief in the power of relics gave rise
to the abuse of the collection and reverencing of them. False relics were bought
and sold and churches tried to outdo each other in the amount of saints
relics they possessed. Letters from the early Church that survive today admonish
Christians against these derelict practices.
are perhaps more beautiful and available than they have ever
been. Every Christian, if they so desire, can wear a reminder of their favorite
saint against his or her heart. Often the name has a two-fold meaning; it is the
name of a favorite relative as well as that of a saint. Sometimes a saint is favored
and their medal worn because of their career or interests in life. A carpenter,
for instance, might choose to wear a St. Joseph medal, a lawyer a St. Thomas medal.
There is a saint for every career and interest people have.
A candidate for sainthood
is usually brought to the attention of Church
authorities by a group of ordinary Catholics who know of a person who has lived
an extraordinarily holy life and wish to honor them. Saints was originally
a more universal term used to refer to the members of the Christian communities
of the early Church. As time passed it was used only in reference to people believed
to be holy, like monks or Church officials. Today calling a person a saint means
one of three things: he lives or had lived a holy life; he has gone to heaven,
or he has been judged to be in heaven by the Church and so canonized.
process was redefined by Pope John Paul II in 1983.
The first step is the declaration of the proposed person as venerable. The second,
after the legitimization of one miracle, is naming the person Blessed,
and the third, requiring a second proven miracle, is sainthood. The sainted person
is honored and prayed with by the entire Church. We believe God has shown us that
they are indeed in heaven, and that because of our belief in the Communion of
Saints, we can ask for their help in praying to God.
we wear Saint medals
around our necks or pinned to our shirts, in the same way we might
wear a locket. Each carries a picture of a beloved person, reminding
us of him or her, and that there are people to whom we can aspire.
Saints are testaments to the good in people, something that we can
have trouble seeing in an often baffling world. When we wear their
medals we give testimony to their holy lives and remember that we
too can be holy.
Sainthood, Its Manifestations in World Religions. Ed.
Richard Kieckhefer and George D. Bond. University of California
Martyrs and Miracles, The Inspiring Lives of Saints and Martyrs.
Carolyn Trickey-Bapty. Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc. 1996
Catholic Online, Saints and Angels. The Catholic Encyclopedia,
Vol. X. Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Online Edition,
K. Knight, 2003.
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