This is a 1964 very rare Vatican City gold medal commemorating the death of Pope John XXIII. It was created by his long-time friend, Giacomo Manzu, who was commissioned to create new panels on the Door of Death at Saint Peter’s Basilica (featured on the cover of Life magazine from October 1968). He is also the artist who created the floor panel of Pope John XXIII’s coat of arms at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The medal is considered to be very rare, with only one other that was found at a museum in the UK.
This is Pope John’s death medal. On the front is his name in Latin, Johannes XXIII PP.
The back of the medal says, in Latin, the date of his death: June 3, 1963, and the following inscription:
Dilexisset in finem. Dilexit. Translated, He loved him to the end. Loved.
The quote is from John 13:1
New International Version
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The medal is 3.49 cm in size and in a leather case with Pope John’s coat of arms on the cover.
Information About the Coat of Arms in the Floor of St. Peter’s, Created by Giacomo Manzu, from the Curator of Papal Artifacts, Father Richard Kunst:
John XXIII had his coat of arms put into the entry of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and there’s a great story connected to it: people complained that the lion was smiling. It was Giacomo Manzu who was the artist. Manzu was a Communist who also did the Door of Death for John XXIII at Saint Peter’s—it’s one of the main doors in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Manzu was from the same city as John XXIII. So they became good friends even though he was a Communist and not a big fan of the Church. He was a great artist, and so that coat of arms in the entryway of Saint Peter’s is actually commemorating the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It has the date of the opening on it.
And Manzu got a lot of criticism: the lion looked too happy. Manzu said he wouldn’t change it until the Holy Father saw it himself. And so John XXIII went to look at it, and he said, “I like happy lions!” So it’s there to this day, a happy lion.
On the coat of arms, the “happy lion”, (the lion indicating Pope John’s tenure as cardinal-archbishop of Venice) is holding two scrolls in his mouth:
Pax tibi Marce, Evangelista meus: Peace to you, Mark, my evangelist. Tradition holds that Saint Mark is buried in Venice.
The Collection has an original charcoal sketch of Pope John XXIII that was created by Giacomo Manzu in 1963. It was created for the Door of Death. That sketch is also featured on this page of Papal Artifacts and, as can be seen on the medal, is the identical image. The following commentary by Father Kunst details the story of the sketch, the image on the medal and the door in St. Peter’s.
In front of St. Peter’s Basilica, there are five bronze doors, and the one on the far left, as you’re facing the basilica, is referred to as the ‘Door of Death.’ The reason it’s called this is because, traditionally speaking, those are the doors they take the bodies of the popes through for the last time before they bury them in the crypt of St. Peter’s. So, over time it got the nickname of the ‘Door of Death,’ because that is where the bodies were brought through.
On the image of the Door of Death there is a whole series of scenes of saints dying, including Jesus and Mary. And it was a door that was actually commissioned by Pope John XXIII to be redone. The old one was being replaced, and there was a big contest in regards to who was going to get the commission. Eventually a Communist atheist won the commission. He was Giacomo Manzu who became a great friend to Pope John XXIII. Imagine! This Communist atheist won the right to create the door right in the height of Communist strength throughout the world. And as Manzu was actually doing the Door of Death, Pope John himself died. And so what Manzu wanted to do to honor his patron, to honor his good friend, was to change the final panel. Originally, it would have been an image of a saint dying. So he changed the final panel to be an image of his friend, John XXIII.
The artifact we have here is actually an original charcoal sketch from Manzu as he prepared to do this final panel for the Door of Death. Again, it’s an historic item connected not just with John XXIII, but also with St. Peter’s itself. And so it has been on the cover of books and of Time magazine–this actual sketch–because of the relationship between this Communist atheist with the good holy Pope and the significant role he played in the creation of this door of the Basilica.
It is so rare to have this gold medal as well as the original sketch of Manzu’s in the same Collection.