Medals, crosses, rosaries, statues, paintings and other religious articles have long been used as a means of fostering and expressing our religious devotion to Christ and His saints. Icons, or painted images of Christ and the saints, are especially popular among Eastern Christians as an aid to Christian piety and devotion.
The use of any religious article is therefore intended as a means of reminding us of God and of stirring up in us a ready willingness and desire to serve God and our neighbour. With this understanding we reject any use of religious articles as if they were mere charms or had some magic power to bring us good luck or better health.
Origin of the Medal of Saint Benedict
For the early Christians, the cross was a favourite symbol and badge of their faith in Christ. We know that St Benedict had a deep faith in the Cross and worked miracles with the sign of the cross. Devotion to the Cross of Christ also gave rise to the striking of medals of St.Benedict holding a cross aloft in his right hand and his Rule in the other hand.
We do not know just when the first medal of St Benedict was struck. At some point in history a series of capital letters was placed around the large figure of the cross on the reverse side of the medal. For a long time the meaning of these letters was unknown, but in 1647 a manuscript dating back to 1415 was found at an Abbey in Bavaria, giving an explanation of the letters.
The Jubilee Medal
Because the Jubilee Medal struck in 1880 under the supervision of the monks of Montecassino, Italy, has all the important features associated with the Medal of St Benedict, the following description of this medal can serve to make clear the nature and intent of the medal:
The Cross of Eternal Salvation
On the face of the medal is the image of St.Benedict. In his right hand he holds the Cross, the Christian's symbol of salvation. The cross reminds us of the zealous work of evangelizing and civilizing Europe carried out mainly by Benedictine monks and nuns, especially in the sixth to ninth centuries.
Rule and Raven
In St Benedict's left hand is his Rule that can well be summed up as exhorting us to "walk in God's ways, with the Gospel as our guide."
On a pedestal to the right of St Benedict is the poisoned cup, shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. On a pedestal to the left is a raven about to carry away a loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy had sent to St Benedict.
C. S. P. B.
Above the cup and the raven are the Latin words: Crux s. patris Benedicti (The Cross of our holy father Benedict). On the margin of the medal, encircling the figure of Benedict, are the Latin words: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!). St Benedict has always been regarded as the patron of a happy death. He himself died in the chapel at Montecassino while standing with his arms raised up to heaven, supported by his monks, shortly after he had received Holy Communion.
Below Benedict we read: ex SM Casino MDCCCLXXX (from holy Montecassino, 1880). This is the medal struck to commemorate the 1400th anniversary of the saint's birth.
Reverse Side of the Medal
On the back of the medal, the cross is dominant. On the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a rhythmic 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!). In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict.
Above the cross is the word pax (peace). This has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. Around the margin of the back of the medal, the letters V R S N S M V - S M Q L I V B are the initial letters of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Get behind me Satan! Do not tempt me with your empty promises! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)
Blessing of the Medal
There is no special way of carrying or wearing the Medal. It can be worn on a chain around the neck, attached to one's rosary, kept in one's pocket or purse, or placed in one's car or home. The medal is often put into the foundations of houses and buildings or in one's place of business. Medals of Saint Benedict are sacramentals and may be blessed by a priest.