Coin-relics, devotion, and the nature of money

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Coin-relics, devotion, and the nature of money

October 21 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm



The Thirty Pieces of Silver: coin-relics, devotion, and the nature of money

by Professor Lucia Travaini

In 1920 Sir George F. Hill published his survey on the “The Thirty Pieces of Silver” (in The Medallic portraits of Christ…, Oxford). One hundred years on, Hill’s study of the medieval legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver and his inventory of the recorded specimens has been updated in a new book (I Trenta denari di Giuda. Storia di reliquie impreviste nell’Europa medievale e moderna, Rome 2020). In the intervening century, many more specimens and primary documentary sources have come to light and their role can be better appreciated within the wider context of the history of Christian materiality: relics and devotion; pilgrims, cardinals and kings; reformation and counter-reformation.

The Thirty Pieces represent the most infamous financial transaction ever recorded, and Judas was responsible for it: because of its fundamental significance in the Christ narrative, by the 14th century specimens of what Christian belief regarded as the hideous sum – mainly reused antique Greek coins – were kept as relics of the Passion or Arma Christi in churches across Europe. As such, they were also illustrated in manuscripts, paintings and frescoes, often with scenes of the Passion. Sometimes the appearance of a specimen in a given moment in a given church coincided with a surge of anti-Judaism.

Specimen coin-relics have been recorded in many places, including in Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Germany before the Reformation: one decadrachm of Syracuse of unknown provenance is now in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, and in 1774 one Piece of unknown type was kept in the University Library at Uppsala, together with Judas’ money bag!

The lecture proposes to show:

1) the coin-relics, their story, identification (including coins of Rhodes, the commonest ancient coins reused), diffusion and dispersion;

2) the parallel and independent visual narrative of the Pieces depicted as Arma Christi, with different peculiarities in various parts of Europe (in Italy they are represented by one hand counting the coins in another hand, while north of the Alps they are illustrated individually, each of them to be counted);

3) the antiquarian debate around the coins of Rhodes as specimens of the Pieces;

4) the urgency of Catholic scholars and priests to protect the authenticity of the coin-relic in Rome, and their final rejection of it;

5) finally, the meaning of the Thirty Pieces of Silver as a crucial memento of the nature of money, demonstrated by a monumental relic in Rome.


Please note that due to COVID 19 restrictions this event may be online only. If we can hold this event at Burlington House tickets to attend in person will be released closer to the date of the event.  

Attendance by Live Stream:

  • Registration is essential.
  • Open to anyone to join, Fellows and Non-Fellows.
  • Once you have registered we will be in touch regarding how you can join via Zoom video-calling.
  • The event will also be live-streamed to YouTube here, so you can watch along if you prefer
  • Places through zoom will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The event will begin at 17.00 BST.
  • You will recieve an email with the link to join the day before the lecture.
  • Attendees’ cameras and microphones will be off throughout

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October 21
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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United Kingdom