The religious medallions found at Jamestown are explicitly Catholic items. Worn by 16th and 17th century Catholics as jewelry or incorporated into rosaries, the images on either side represented devotion to a saint, an event, or a symbol of the Catholic Church. Many of the religious medallions found at Jamestown include imagery of the Virgin Mary, the Christ Child, or Jesus on the Cross. Along with crucifixes, rosary beads, and a personal reliquary recovered from a grave, these artifacts may represent a quiet Catholic presence among several of Jamestown’s settlers.
While the Act of 1571 subjected English individuals owning or selling Roman Catholic devotional items to the loss of land and possessions, imprisonment, and even death, perhaps the presence of Catholic symbolism at Protestant James Fort was not as taboo as we imagine. The English Reformation did not establish strict parameters regarding all aspects of religious life, and both Queen Elizabeth I and her successor King James I retained some of the physical and ideological trappings of Catholic tradition.
The medallions may have been owned by English recusants who continued to practice the Catholic faith despite the mounting laws against it. It is also possible that they were brought to Jamestown by travelers or settlers from other European Catholic countries, including Germany, Poland, or Spain. Similar medallions have been found in Dutch and Spanish shipwrecks, so perhaps they came to Virginia on one of the numerous trade ships bringing goods from Europe. Or perhaps they were heirlooms brought to Jamestown for protection, good luck, or tokens of spiritual belief.
00609-JR: Bust of Jesus facing to the left on one side with halo above head, on the opposite side Mary, also with halo above head.
01999-JR: Bust of Jesus facing to the left on one side with halo above head, on the opposite side Mary, also with halo above head.
01204-JR: A figure of Mary and the Christ Child on on one side, on the opposite side, the Immaculate Conception is depicted. Mary’s arms are crossed in prayer. She is seated with her feet on a crescent moon. A rayed mandala surrounds the figure. This is the same image as is seen on one of the medallions with St. Francis on one side (08717-JR), however this one includes seven stars, representing Mary’s seven joys. Previously only counted as five joys, the seven joys also included The Pentecost or Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Mary, and The Coronation of the Virgin in Heaven. The Five Joys was a popular devotion in England before the Reformation and later became the Seven Joys. It is unclear when the final two joys became a part of the devotion, although if this could be determined, this may aid in dating the medallion. It is likely that this medallion was made at a later date than those that include only 5 stars
01450-JR: Almost identically to 08717-JR and similar to 01204-JR, one side depicts the Immaculate Conception. Mary’s arms are crossed in prayer. She is crowned with her hair to her shoulders and is seated with her feet on a crescent moon. A rayed mandala with 14 rays surrounds the figure. Five stars, which represent Mary’s five joys, surround her head. The other side depicts a risen Christ holding an orb and surrounded by an aureole of rays. Below Christ are the letters IHS. These letters are a symbol representing the name Jesus. Below the letters, a line separates IHS from 3 nails, likely the three nails which Jesus was crucified with, depicted with the heads upwards and the pointed tips joined together.
03671-JR: Christ with halo is seen carrying the cross on one side. The other side includes the letters IHS below a cross. This medallion was recovered from the second well, not far from where the Latin Cross Bottony Crucifix was found. Perhaps they were once part of the same rosary or were owned by the same person.
03065-JR: Mary and two other figures, perhaps Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene burying Jesus in a crypt on one side. The other side depicts two soldiers kneeling at the entrance to an empty crypt, as the risen Jesus holding a cross is above.