Excavations at A’asu reveal three Roman
Catholic devotional medals:
of Medals | Back
(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.
(roll over image to view backside)
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
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
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.
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.
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