Friday, February 5, 2016

2/5/16 Report - Laura Strolia's Historical Research Related To A 17th Century Artifact Found By A Detectorist In North Florida

I have a special post for you today.  Written by researcher and author Laura Strolia, today's post presents a historical analysis of the 17th century devotional medal shown below.  It was found in North Florida by a detectorist who asked Laura if she could provide information about the medal.

Laura's research on the artifact provides amazingly detailed information concerning the medal and provides important insight into 17th century Spanish Florida.


Front and Back of Medallion Found By Detectorist In North Florida.
Photo provided by Laura Strolia.

Historical Analysis of Devotional Medal Found In North Florida.

This is an analysis of an oval devotional medal that was discovered while metal detecting in northern Florida.

Its weight and measurements have not been specified. A top loop remains on the object, which allowed it to hang on a chain or cord. It also could have been attached to clothing or suspended on a rosary. Considering this piece was made without any projecting flanges on its sides, it would not have been attached to a frame or another object with linking qualities. The medal is bronze and struck in the making process.

Unlike many other religious medals found on colonial American sites, this one holds two visual representations revealing one theme from its front to back. The medal remains notable because its specific designs and words are seldom seen together on artifacts in existence today. The small object happens to reveal an extraordinary story of history pertaining to an important movement of faith in the Catholic Church.

In 1563, after the Council of Trent clarified many doctrines and beliefs, artists were commissioned to paint teachings of faith in a visual manner. One topic of work encouraged in the Counter-Reformation period was the Institution of the Eucharist or transubstantiation. This doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist was shown using many artistic symbols, such as a wine cup, a wafer, grapes, bread, and wheat.

An earlier found devotional medal, part of a collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History, shows two praying angels on each side of a chalice with the Sacred Host. This medal of the Santísimo Sacramento (Blessed Sacrament) was unearthed at St. Augustine and dated from 1650 to 1700. Likewise, the artifact we are examining also has a wine cup and the Holy Eucharist, along with olive branches, a traditional symbol of peace used in adoration and praise of the Blessed Sacrament.

Before we attempt to date our piece, both pictures on the medal need to be considered.

On the opposite side of the Blessed Sacrament is a representation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, or Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a belief the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived and born without original sin.

The subject of the Immaculate Conception had been popular debate since the 13th century because some of the faithful believed God sanctified Mother Mary after she was conceived. In the 1500s, the Council of Trent failed to assert an official Church position, and tensions from opposing views continued into the following decades.

At the start of the Baroque period, a wave of artists became inspired to paint the Immaculate Conception. Many were hired by laymen and religious orders to complete works in order to promote faith in the Immaculate Conception. The citizens of Spain greatly excelled, more so than anywhere else, in their devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción. In 1613, a protest occurred in the city of Seville after a speech. Around 40,000 people defended with loud proclamations and demonstrations to protect Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

Confraternities also promoted Our Lady and pushed for the acceptance of the Immaculate Conception as dogma. In Seville, the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament committed to be a brotherhood of the Immaculate Conception. During public celebrations, their banner consisted of a monstrance holding a consecrated Host, along with an anagram of María (Mary), symbolizing the Immaculate Conception. The letters on the banner read, “sin pecado original,” meaning the Blessed Virgin was without original sin. Historic documentation even states the anagram of the María was put on the door of the Seville cathedral in 1616.

Movements promoting the Immaculate Conception grew rapidly in the first two decades of the 17th century, and the subject reached its height around 1620, becoming the most widespread Catholic imagery of the time. Three Spanish painters of the early 17th century, Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644), Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), and Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1660), are credited with developing some of the initial visual themes for the Immaculate Conception, which in turn, impacted the work of many future artists.

Pacheco also had a book published after his death in 1649 that the Spanish Inquisition chose to use as their official rulebook for Immaculate Conception iconography. His guidelines in Arte de la pintura (“Art of Painting”) were mainly taken from the Book of Revelation of St. John: “a woman robed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

The artifact we are analyzing bears an image of the Immaculate Conception that closely resembles those in the paintings done by the three previously mentioned artists. A difference to note, however, is the number of stars in the Virgin Mary’s celestial crown. Unlike the commonly used twelve, the medal shows seven stars, a popular devotional number of the Franciscans. For instance, the Franciscan Seraphic Rosary contains seven decades in commemoration of the Seven Joys of Mary.

In 1621, the Immaculate Conception became Patron of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), who then pledged by oath to publicly teach and spread the mystery. It is plausible to say the medal we are examining was issued by the Franciscans who were then the leading religious order stationed in 17th century Florida.

Since clues indicate the piece was of Spanish origin, it would have likely been made in Seville. Rome was also considered another main production hub, but the omission of “Roma,” or “Rome,” on its surface tends to dismiss this source.

The local clergy regulated the devotional medals following the standards and rules issued by the Vatican. Religious orders were able to strike their own medals to create special devotions to specific events, symbols, or patron saints. Missionary groups collected and shipped the medals to the colonies in the Americas where they would be distributed.

Previous archaeological research indicates that medals of the Immaculate Conception found on New World colony sites, dating after 1650, drastically decreased in number, to almost none. This was the beginning of a transitional period, for in 1661, the Pope issued a papal decree to clarify the dispute of Immaculate Conception and forbid any further discussion.

This medal, dating to the period c. AD 1620-1650, has yet more to its story. Its inscriptions, which have not yet been addressed, reveal an interesting part of cultural tradition that has been lost over the centuries.

The side with the representation of the Immaculate Virgin reads in Latin, “et macula non est in te,” meaning “there is no spot in thee.” This verse from Song of Solomon 4:7 has been associated with the Immaculate Conception since the 12th century.

The opposite side with the Blessed Sacrament, at one time, had the legible Spanish words, “Alabado Sea el Santísimo Sacramento” or “Praised be the Most Holy Sacrament.” This well known Spanish hymn was sung in praise to the Sacred Eucharist.

Curiously, the texts put together from both sides make up verses from another famous prayersong, also originating in Spain. It was so well liked and embraced that the Franciscans began to spread it throughout the Spanish frontier. In every mission, the Indians were taught “Alabado Sea el Santísimo Sacramento del altar,” which in fact, had many versions. In addition, some prayers and hymns, called alabados, had a combination of both Latin and Spanish text.

This particular prayer-song eventually became a popular greeting for Spaniards . . . “Alabado sea el Santísimo Sacramento del Altar! Bendita sea la Limpia y Purísima Concepción de Nuestra Señora María Santísima sin mancha de pecado original!” or “Praised be the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar! Blessed be the stainless and most pure Conception of Our Lady Mary Most Holy without the taint of original sin!”

Native Americans were said to use this salutation in making a sign of friendship. Supposedly, when one Christian Indian greeted another, he said, “Praise be the Most Holy Sacrament!” The other would then reply, “And Ave María Purísima!”

by Laura Strolia, 2016 


Deagan, Kathleen. Artifacts of the Spanish Colonies of Florida and the Caribbean. Vol. 2. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Pr., 2002.

Harris, William Richard, Lawrence Bishop Scanlan, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, and Silvestre Vélez De Escalante. The Catholic Church in Utah a Review of Spanish and Missionary Explorations, Tribal Divisions ... the Journal of the Franciscan Explorers and Discoverers of Utah Lake, the Trailing of Priests from Santa Fé, N.M. Salt Lake City, UT: Intermountain Catholic, 1909.

Montaño, Mary Caroline. Tradiciones Nuevomexicanas: Hispano Arts and Culture of New Mexico. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 2001.

Muller, Priscilla E. Jewels in Spain: 1500-1800. New York: Hispanic Soc. of America, 1972.


Thanks much Laura!  Excellent research.

Metal detecting isn't just about finding things.  That is only a small part of it.  Metal detecting is more about being and doing, and perhaps most of all, about learning and relating.  It is about enlarging your world and discovering meaning.

When you find an object, that is often just the very beginning of a long journey of discovery, and it doesn't matter whether the object is old or new.


Yesterday we had a good south wind, and the sand was blowing north to south.  It wasn't long ago that I remember seeing it blow the other way.

Friday the wind will be coming from the north again, and the surf will increase a foot or two.

Happy hunting,