Monday, October 1, 2012


On September 26, 2009 a new group of Ladies and Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre was investitured at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. The honorable heritage of this group goes back one thousand years, and its commitments and charitable mission now includes preservation of the Bascillica of the Holy Sepulchre and good works in the schools in Jerusalem.

The medal shown above is the last medal of Pope John Paul's pontificate. Earlier medals show him as a vigorous man, preaching, traveling, and exemplifying the lived life of the Gospel. In this last medal, his square and classic Roman features have been softened by suffering and by time. Rather than a scene showing the active outreach of this very great man, the profile here suggests meditation and reflection within. In looking back on his life with gratitude, even in the tremendous suffering of his last years he gave us a model of how to live the last days of our lives.

In all of the 1000 Papal Medals struck by the Mint of Rome for the Vatican, and catalogued by Mazio in 1942, I have been unable to find a Papal profile of a Pope in the last days of his life who is in such physical pain. Typically, these medals show a Pope at his best, confident and strong, and sometimes (even sadly) arrogant and imperious. For Karol Wojtyla, the school of human pain and suffering was perhaps one of his greatest associations with the Church Triumphant.

Perhaps the Pontiff himself chose to meditate on the Lord's Tomb as he neared the end of his life. Both his own suffering, as well as that of His Lord, and the expectation of imminent Resurrection and accompanying Empty Tomb, are communicated to us on this coin.

I suggest that this, his last Papal Medal, is singular when viewed among its many companion pieces.

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