This 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 Tolention was named for Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical figure who later became our Old St. Nick. Religious medals like this were originally attached to rosary beads, and are traditionally handled by practitioners of Catholicism. This is clear from the reverse of the medal, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child above the inscription A.M.D.POPVL “Blessed Mary of the People.” Its appearance at Jamestown, a Protestant colony, remains a mystery. A number of traditionally Catholic objects, such as other medallions, crucifixes, and a personal reliquary have been found within James Fort’s walls. Because of this, archaeologists now believe there might have been a quiet Catholic presence among several of Jamestown’s settlers.
While 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 right. Known for ministering to the poor and hungry, bread is one common 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.