From now until eternity: the continuing value of Papal collectibles

Whilst Pope Benedict XVI makes his visit to Britain amid controversy, and concerns about dwindling audiences for the Holy See, we thought it might be a good time to look at some collectibles with a link to the Papacy and the Catholic Church.

These items are unlikely to lose their value any time soon, and often a controversial nature is exactly what maintains interest.

Firstly, brass alms dish decorated with the arms of France's favourite saint, Joan of Arc which commemorates her victory at Orleans in the Hundred Years' War in 1429. The victory resulted in the coronation of Charles VII.

An illiterate peasant girl, Joan claimed divine revelation brought her to fight for France, and she was eventually beatified by the Catholic Church in 1920 - nearly 500 years after she was burned for heresy.

Thought to date from near Joan of Arc's time, the piece is inscribed, "In 1429, after the relief of Orleans, King Charles VII, who was staying at Chinon, bestowed on Joan of Arc the coat of arms". It sold at Bonhams for £3,000 in June.

More recently beatified even than Joan, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is held up by many, whether religious or not as an example of selfless good. Whilst the older saint was illiterate, Mother Teresa left behind a few autographs, and one is on offer at the moment.

Prayer note written by Mother Teresa
Prayer note written by Mother Teresa

The white card has written on it, in blue ink: "The joy of loving is in the joy of giving. God bless you, M Teresa."

A first edition of a piece of writing which was less welcome to the Papacy of the time was: Galileo's Systema Cosmicum in which he presented Copernican views of the universe.

Having been initially forbidden from discussing Copernican theories by the papacy, Galileo was told by the new pope, Urban VIII, that he could discuss them provided that he provided equal argument for opposing theories.

Galileo's efforts presented advocates of Ptolemaic, Copernican and Aristotelian views along with an educated layman as an interlocutor. Pope Urban VIII was incensed, however, as he not only felt that Galileo was clearly endorsing Copernicus, but that the text jibed at Urban himself.

A first Latin edition of Galileo's most famous work was sold at Christie's in London for £10,625 in 2007.

Staying with the theme of those whose relationship with a Pope abruptly soured: an exceptionally rare gold coin bearing the likeness of a Pope's trusted representative: the Alfonso I D'este (1505-1534), Gold Doppio Ducato (Double Ducat), second issue (from circa 1509) would be the star piece in almost any numismatic collection.

He entered into war against Venice, as the representative of Pope Julius II culminating in the Treaty of Cambrai 1508, after a successful victory at Bolesella on December 22 1509. Later, the Pope turned against him, and D'este found himself in danger until Julius unexpectedly died.

Only five examples of its kind are thought to exist of which two are in museums and another is more holey than holy. One intact specimen is currently available for £80,000.

Henry VIII's personal divorce plea
Henry VIII's personal divorce plea

Finally, a letter from someone at least as frustrated with Julius II is the most historically significant of all: Henry VIII's personal divorce plea to free him from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which would allow him to marry Anne Boleyn and - he hoped - father a male heir.

The Pope was at the time a prisoner of Catherine's nephew, The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, following the Sack of Rome in 1527, and this prevented him from annulling the marriage. Henry took the radical choice of splitting from the Catholic Church and declaring himself Head of the Church in England.

He decided not to deny himself a divorce.

Unbelievably, this letter is not in a museum, or the Papal archives, but available for sale. For more details click here.


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