A Christian Science art medal
Great Religions booklet front cover. Church Archives, Box 36985,
Folder 66088. Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
We have in our collections a commemorative medal bearing Mary Baker Eddy’s likeness. What is the story behind it?
This collectible object began taking shape when Ralph Menconi (1915-1972)—recognized as one of the “world’s foremost sculptors of medals”—conceived of a 25-medal series featuring “great religions of the world.” He included Christian Science and its founder in the series and began production in 1970.1
Menconi had already completed other commemorative medal series, including “Presidents of the United States” and “Signers of the Declaration of Independence.” Interestingly his father, Raffaele Menconi, was instrumental in creating the carvings for Mary Baker Eddy’s memorial at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.2
Dr. David Poling, President of the Christian Herald Association, chaired an International Committee of Advisors to assist Menconi in the project’s development. Besides Poling, the committee included such well-known religious leaders as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Dr. Billy Graham, and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Erwin D. Canham, Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Science Monitor, represented Christian Science on the committee.3
A booklet accompanied each medal, written to “enlarge our understanding and appreciation of the world’s great religions.”4 Eddy biographer Robert Peel wrote the content for the booklet about Christian Science.
As originator of the series, Menconi worked with Medallic Art Company, which struck the medals in finishes of gold, silver, and bronze. Ohio-based Presidential Art Medals, Inc., announced in a 1971 letter that it would release ten different medals for sale yearly. The first medal, featuring John Wesley (The United Methodist Church) was available in early 1971.5
The Christian Science medal was ninth in the series.6 It prominently features a portrait in relief of Mary Baker Eddy and quotes from Eddy’s writings on the obverse side. The reverse side bears images of the cross and crown, open books representing the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and The Mother Church in Boston. The medal was released in early 1972, and The New York Times published a short writeup about it on April 30. While the Christian Science church served a major role in the production phase of this medal, it did not market or sell it.
Other medals in the series depicted John Calvin (The Presbyterians) and Martin Luther (The Lutherans). Some selections, such as those featuring Islam, the Baha’i Faith, and the Roman Catholic church, did not portray a specific founder.
Left: Christian Science medal, bronze, front. 2002.124.002. Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
Right: Christian Science medal, bronze, back, finished with a “brown white patina.”[Church Archives, Box 36985, Folder 66088.] Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
Ralph Menconi passed away in November 1972, having completed only 16 medals in the series. After his death, another artist completed two more medals before the series was discontinued.
The “Great Religions of the World” series of art medals did not receive as much recognition as its creators hoped. However, the number of questions the Library has received about it over the years indicates that this series of collectible medals attracted attention and perhaps fulfilled its prime objective—to encourage “the investigation and appreciation of other religions.”
- Patent Trader, Mt. Kisco, New York, February 20, 1970
- Egerton Swartwout, Memorandum, 1 April 1942, Subject File, Eddy, Mary Baker – Memorial – Mt. Auburn Cemetery _ correspondence
- David Poling to Erwin D. Canham, letter, 22 December 1970, Church Archives, Box 36985, Folder 66088
- See Presidential Art Medals, Inc. flyer, circa 1971, Church Archives, Box 36985, Folder 66088
- D. Wayne Johnson, former Director of Research for Medallic Art Company to Pamela Winstead, email, 25 March 2006