Megan Project: Religion and Currency

Religious Coins

A common item people encounter basically everyday is money. Due to its commonplace appearance in our lives, we tend not to notice the appearance of that which we use to pay for everything we do. If people did, they would find that currencies across the globe are riddled with examples of religious symbolism. The most common illustration would be the “In God We Trust” that appears on both paper currency and coins in the U.S. This is yet one of many examples, because religious symbols can be found in monetary systems across the globe.

In the picture above, I’ve compiled a variety of coins which have incorporated religious symbolism in their design. Since the coins I’ve gathered are from different countries and each coin has a distinctive name, I have placed numbers beneath them for reference.  Coins #1 and #2 are both Italian and feature Roman gods on them; #1 has Minerva (Goddess of Wisdom) and #2 has Vulcan (God of Fire). The third coin is French with an engraving of an olive branch on it. The olive branch is a well known symbol of peace, but it has early roots in Christianity where the dove and the olive branch were used to represent the Holy Spirit. The 4th and 8th coins are both British currency. On the 4th coin, there are four objects; a shamrock, thistle, leek, and, Tudor Rose. Those four items are arranged in a cross, a well-known Christian symbol. The shamrock itself is also a Christian symbol, alluding to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.  According to legend, Saint Patrick used the shamrock as a metaphor with its three leaves signifying the Holy Trinity. The 8th coin has a shield with a cross on it, which is the symbol of Saint George. The 5th coin is from Japan and features a design with a Buddhist temple called Phoenix Hall in Uji, Kyoto. While the 6th and 7th coins are more familiar as U.S. quarters, they hold religious symbolism to Pacific Islanders and Native Americans respectively, that people may not realize. On the 6th coin there is a bowl engraved which is special to the Samoan people, used for a special religious and cultural ceremony called ‘Ave. The 7th coin displays Chaco Culture National Historical Park located in New Mexico. This location was important spiritually to the Hopi and Pueblo natives that used to inhabit the site. Coins #9 and #10 show the coat of arms of Peru and the Dominican Republic. The coin with Peru’s coat of arms has a palm branch on the left side, which is significant in multiple religions. In Judaism a palm branch is part of the Sukkot festival, in Christianity it is related to Palm Sunday, and in Islam it is tied with Mohammed. The symbolism in the 10th coin is more obvious, the book shown in the coat of arms is the Bible and above it is the Christian cross.

Clearly, religious symbolism manifests itself globally in the form of décor and design on currency.  Next time you’re placing coins in a vending machine, take a moment to see if there might be any spiritual imagery.

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