Iconographical Warfare – Alive and Well

Late last year, the National Bank of Slovakia announced that the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, had ordered it to remove halos and crosses from special commemorative euro coins due to be minted this summer

The coins, designed by a local artist, were intended to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in Slovak lands but have instead become tokens of the faith’s retreat from contemporary Europe. They featured two evangelizing Byzantine monks, Cyril and Methodius, their heads crowned by halos and one’s robe decorated with crosses, which fell foul of European diversity rules that ban any tilt toward a single faith.

Well, the coins do look great, but I can see the point that non-Catholic spenders of Euros might have an objection. On the other hand, there really is a strong attempt from secularist Europeans to strip Europe of explicitly religious symbols, and unlike the “war on Christmas,” I often think it impinges on freedom of religion in ways that disturb me.

What really interests me are the ways that history is being invoked here:

Europe is suffused with Christianity, or at least memories of its past influence. The landscape is dotted with churches, now mostly empty, and monasteries, its ancient universities are rooted in medieval religious scholarship, and many of its national crests and anthems pay homage to God.

Even the European Union’s flag — a circle of 12 yellow stars on a blue background — has a coded Christian message. Arsène Heitz, a French Catholic who designed the flag in 1955, drew inspiration from Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary wearing a crown with 12 stars. The same 12 stars appear on all euro coins.

The very idea that Europe should unite began with efforts to rally Christendom in the ninth century by Charlemagne, the first ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the end, the European Commission decided to let the coins be printed, and thus allows Slovakia to stamp Christianity into its monetary identity.

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