Religious Medals & Their Meaning

Religious medals are often attached to chains or rosaries.
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A religious or devotional medal is a small piece of metal that believers wear or carry as a constant reminder of the love of God or to remember the lives of the saints. Typically made of silver or gold, such a medal resembles a two-sided coin that is engraved with an effigy or inscription. Religious medals engraved with the images of saints Peter and Paul have been found in 2nd century graves. In the Catholic tradition, the priest usually blesses the medal. Catholics often receive a religious medal as a gift when they celebrate the sacraments or on other religious occasions.

1 Miraculous Medal

Catholics believe that in 1830 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared three times in a vision to Sister Catherine Laboure, of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. In her third vision, the nun saw Mary standing on the globe, stretching out her arms with rays of light streaming from her hands. As a frame around the vision, Sister Catherine saw the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”; then the image reversed to reveal the design on the back of the medal. Called the “miraculous medal,” Catholics believe that wearing it entitles you to receive grace from Mary.

2 St. Christopher Medal

St. Christopher carried Christ across a stream.
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St. Christopher is considered the patron saint of travel. Catholics and even non-religious people typically have a St. Christopher medal for protection, especially when traveling. St. Christopher medals are manufactured to attach to your car's sun visor or the dashboard. St. Christopher is said to have carried a small child across a river, but the child seemed unusually heavy. When he asked the child why he was so heavy, the child told him that he is Jesus Christ, and the extra weight is the burden of the sins of mankind.

3 The Four-Way Medal

The four-way medal has another, smaller medal on each end of the cross.
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The four-way medal is a large, cross-shaped medal shaped like a cross. Each end of the cross bears a smaller medal; typically, these consist of a miraculous medal, a scapular, a St. Joseph medal, and finally, a St. Christopher medal. The image engraved in the center of the cross is usually a Sacred Heart of Jesus or the dove that represents the Holy Spirit. While wearing this medal, Catholics are reminded of the saints, the Cross and more.

4 St. Benedict Medal

Catholics carry or wear the St. Benedict medal to symbolize a prayer that asks for God’s blessings, the guidance of Jesus and for strength during temptation. On the medal, St. Benedict holds a cross in his right hand; in his left, he holds a copy of his Holy Rule for Monasteries. The cup represents a cup of poison that was given to him, while a raven to his left represents the bird that carried away a loaf of poisoned bread said to have been delivered to the saint.

5 Other Medals

Catholics often wear the medal that depicts their patron saint, that is, the saint whom they chose as their patron upon first receiving the sacrament of confirmation or the saint that their parents chose for them when they were baptized. Some of the more popular saints chosen as patron saints include St. Jude, St. Joseph and St. Patrick.

Sherry Hames began writing professionally in 1982. She holds a master's and a bachelor's degree in English literature, and has proofread and copy edited for "Better Homes & Gardens" and the American Marketing Association, among other outlets. She has edited for more than 25 years.