Collection Inspiration: Saints

Posted on 10/19/2021

Many nations have honored exemplary Christians on their banknotes.

Paper money collectors often focus on a particular nation or even a particular series. This column is designed to offer ideas for building a collection of notes from around the world based on a common element. With much of Western Christianity celebrating All Saints’ Day on November 1, we take a look at some of the banknotes that feature saints, which are often a source of national pride.

George of Lydda (?-303)

According to tradition, George of Lydda was born to Christian parents in Cappadocia, in present-day Turkey. He joined the Roman army and was martyred during Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. The most popular story about St. George was that he killed a dragon with a lance, rescuing an entire village. The St. George and the Dragon theme appears on this Great Britain Treasury Note and had earlier appeared on British coins. St. George is regarded as the patron saint of England.

Great Britain, 1 Pound Treasury Note ND (1922-23) graded PMG 64 Choice Uncirculated
Click images to enlarge.

Gregory the Illuminator (c.257-c.331)

Raised abroad, Gregory returned to his native Armenia to evangelize and was imprisoned for more than a decade by King Tiridates III. Gregory has a pivotal role in the traditional story of how Armenia was declared the world’s first Christian nation in 301. After the king was cured of a serious illness, Gregory baptized him. The king then made Gregory the first head of the Armenian Orthodox Church. The two men are shown on the back of this Armenia 2001 Commemorative 50,000 Dram celebrating 1,700 years of Christianity in Armenia.

Armenia, Central Bank 2001 50,000 Dram Commemorative
graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Cyril (826-869) and Methodius (815-885)

Cyril and Methodius were brothers and dedicated missionaries to the Slavic people in Central Europe. Together, they devised the Glagolitic alphabet and translated the Gospels into a literary language called Old Church Slavonic. A descendant of the script, called Cyrillic, is still used in many languages today. Both brothers are seen on the front of this Slovakia 2005 50 Korun note, with a sample of the old script that they created on the back.

Slovakia, National Bank 2005 50 Korun graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Ivan of Rila (876-946)

Known as Bulgaria’s first hermit, Ivan was a monk who spent the majority of his life in solitude and prayer. Though he retreated to the caves in the Rila Mountains, people still sought him out for miracles. This led to the creation of the Rila Monastery, which remains active to this day and is depicted on the back of the Bulgaria 1999 Lev note.

Bulgaria, National Bank 1999 1 Lev graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Agnes of Bohemia (1211-1282)

Princess Agnes was a daughter of Bohemia’s King Ottokar I, who devoted her life to prayer and spiritual works. Inspired by the work of Clare of Assisi, Agnes created a hospital, a Franciscan monastery and a convent of the Order of the Poor Ladies. She became a nun in 1236 and devoted the rest of her life in service to the poor. She is shown on this Czech 1993 50 Korun.

Czech Republic, National Bank 1993 50 Korun graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Stephan the Great (1433?-1504)

King Stephan III is celebrated for uniting Moldavia and Romania, bringing stability to the region for decades. His victories against the Ottomans and Hungarians were credited to divine intervention. When he died, he was buried in Romania’s Putna Monastery, where a shrine is dedicated to him. He was canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992 and appears on this banknote from Moldova, located just to the north of Romania.

Moldova, Banca Nationala 2015 500 Lei graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

This Spain 1926 25 Pesetas note celebrates Francis Xavier, one of the first men to become part of the Jesuits (an enduring Roman Catholic order that today includes the current pope, Francis). Francis Xavier’s missionary activities took him to India, Japan, Indonesia and China, where he died of a fever.

Spain, Banco de Espana 1926 25 Pesetas graded PMG 58 Choice About Unc EPQ
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Roque González de Santa Cruz (1576-1628)

Born in Paraguay, Roque González became a Jesuit priest passionate about missionary work with the native tribes. While preparing the installation of a new bell at one of the churches, he was killed by a local tribe whose chieftain opposed the missions. Roque González is the first saint to have been born in Paraguay, and the nation honored him on this 2015 100,000 Guaranies.

Paraguay, Banco Central 2015 100,000 Guaranies graded PMG 69 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Rose of Lima (1586-1617)

Isabel Flores de Olivia was born to a noble family in Peru. When she was an infant, a servant said her face transformed into a rose, earning her the nickname Rose. Devoted to her faith, she regularly preformed penances and sold her needlework to care for the sick in her community. A member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic, she died at age 31. Today, she is revered as the patron saint of Peru, which placed her on its highest denomination of banknote.

Peru, Banco Central de Reserva 2012 200 Nuevos Soles
graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)

Born in the newly independent Poland, Karol Józef Wojtyła pursued the priesthood and was ordained on All Saints Day in 1946. He served as Archbishop of Krakow starting in 1964, when Poland was behind the “Iron Curtain” of Soviet rule. His 26-year papacy, which began in 1978, is one of the longest on record. He was known for improving relations with other religions, reforming canon law and helping to end Communist rule. The first pope from Poland, he is highly regarded in his native land, which honored him with this 2006 commemorative banknote.

Poland, National Bank 2006 50 Zoltych graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ★
Click images to enlarge.

If collecting religious-themed notes inspires you, check out the Collection Inspiration column on churches. If you like to collect notes that feature famous people, check out the Collection Inspiration columns on Nobel Prize Laureates, Composers, Famous Women and Women Writers.

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