ThThis small medallion depicts Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (AD 1245-1305), a 13th-century Italian monk. While not the Santa Claus we know today, Nicholas of Tolentino was named for Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical figure who later became our Old St. Nick. While the iconography of Saint Nicholas varies through time, this medal depicts the Saint with a monk’s cowl and halo, holding a cross in his left hand and bread in his right. Known for ministering to the poor and hungry, bread is an element that appears in nearly every depiction of Nicholas. Renaissance paintings also illustrate Nicholas wearing a black monk’s cowl or hooded robe. This garment is the traditional attire of Augustinians, who practice simple, immaterial lives. Saint Nicholas was the first Augustinian to be canonized by the Catholic Church in 1446.
Religious medals like this were initially attached to rosary beads, and are traditionally handled by practitioners of Catholicism. The reverse depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child above the inscription A.M.D.POPVL “Blessed Mary of the People.” Along with other medallions at Jamestown, its appearance in a Protestant colony is curious. St. Nicholas of Tolentino was the patron saint of mariners. Perhaps it traveled to Virginia in the pocket of a Catholic mariner and was dropped at Jamestown amidst the chaos of unloading supplies and reloading the ship for the return journey.