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Religious Medals

Excavations at A’asu reveal three Roman Catholic devotional medals:

Front of Medals | Back of Medals



Virgin Mary (roll over image to view backside)

        This oval medal measures 2.60 x 2.16 cm, with a slightly deformed round eyelet, 0.24 x 0.34 cm (0.13 cm diameter opening); A figure of the Mary is painted in enamel on the front of the main field, which is set off with a 10-pointed starburst motif above a ring of raised dots. The field appears to have once been white, or off white. The figure of Mary has a blue veil/cloak, and a white dress. The colors are darkened with age, and because the dark metal is showing through. The back of the medal is flat and unmarked. This sort of medal has been popular throughout the twentieth century.






Miraculous Medal (roll over image to view backside)

This oval medal measures 2.19 x 1.59 cm, with a slightly deformed round eyelet, 0.32 x 0.34 cm (0.19 cm diameter opening). Though severely encrusted, after conservation it clearly was shown to have the marking of a Miraculous Medal.

         An unblemished Miraculous Medal has on the front, an image of the Blessed Virgin appearing as if standing on a globe, and bearing a globe in her hands. Rays of light emit downwards from her fingers. The word "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee" are inscribed around the circumference; on the back appears the letter M, surmounted by a cross, with a crossbar beneath it, and under all the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the former surrounded by a crown of thorns, and the latter pierced by a sword.

         The first “Médaille Miraculeuse” was struck in Paris on 1830, and its popularity spread rapidly. The medal in our possession is an English language version, and probably much more recent.


Sacred Heart Medal (roll over image to view backside)

         This round medal measures 2.19 x 2.20 cm, with a slightly deformed round eyelet, 0.36 x 0.42 cm (0.12 cm diameter opening) This is the most deteriorated of any of the medals, and its symbolism is nearly indecipherable. The front appears to have the “Sacred Heart” motif, depicting Jesus pulling aside his cloak to reveal a shining heart. The reverse depicts a man addressing a crowd (possibly the “Sermon on the Mount).

         The age of this piece is undetermined at this time. This motif is found on contemporary medals, and its antiquity of use is unknown. The technology used to manufacture this particular medal is fairly simple. It is die cut, and then stamped on both sides.  This probably indicates that it was manufactured in the late 19th or early twentieth century, but a later date can not be ruled out.


 The religious medals underscore the ideological transformation that A’asu went through, along with the rest of Samoa, after the arrival of Christian missionaries in the early 19th century.

 The first missionaries in Samoa were Protestants of the London Missionary Society in 1830 (Gray 1960).  The first Roman Catholics arrived in Savai’i onboard the French warship L’Etoile de la Mere in 1845, but were unable to gain a foothold on Tutuila until 1879 when the first Roman Catholic missionaries established a the first Parish at Leone. Catholic missionaries faced tremendous difficulties in gaining footholds on the smaller islands like Tutuila and Manu’a. Often, Samoan Catholic converts paid serious social costs, limiting the spread of Catholic ideology away from major ecumenical centers.

         Under the circumstances it may seem remarkable that the archaeological evidence suggests that A’asu, a very isolated village even by the standards of the 19th century, was a Catholic village.

In the context of its history is, however, not so surprising. A’asu had been the site of one of the worst losses of the 18th century era of scientific exploration in the Pacific. Even today there are many questions about what actually happened at A’asu in 1787, but in the 19th century virtually nothing was known. There must have been significant questions as to the responsibility for the conflict, the disposition of the French remains, and even whether or not there were survivors. The Catholic missionaries were predominately of the Marist Order, which had been establish in France in 1816, and most were French citizens and would have been keenly aware of the historical significance of A’asu, and for the potential to learn important information about the cause and aftermath of December 11, 1797. It is not surprising, then, that immediately after the Catholic Church had established an ecumenical center at Leone, that a French Catholic priest, Father Vidal, began the process of investigating A’asu, Vidal tirelessly forged social ties to the village and only after many months of investigation was he able to gain enough respect in the village for the matais (village leaders) to relate their version of the historical events and to reveal the location of the mortal remains.



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