Sir Isaac Newton – Warden of the Mint

Isaac Newton, pictured in 1689

In 1693, fifty-one-old Isaac Newton was mentally exhausted. After firmly rejecting a career in the family farming business as a young man, he had instead written the laws of motion, explained orbital mechanics, investigated the principles of light and colour and developed the calculus. His place in history as one of the greatest thinkers of the modern age was assured.

Newton had grown bored with his sedentary life as a Professor at Cambridge University. The man who had once pushed a bodkin into his eye to test his theories about colour now found that the scientific pursuit of truth no longer held the appeal it once did. His finest achievements were, he felt, behind him, and his behaviour had become increasingly unpredictable and erratic. He would fly into furious rages and write angry, vengeful letters to former friends accusing them of betrayal and conspiracy at the slightest provocation. Plagued by depression, paranoia and insomnia, he suffered what he would later describe as his ‘black year’. It would last eighteen months.

Newton needed a change of scene and a new challenge to exercise his mind. After a while, he began to bombard his friend Charles Montagu, Chancellor of the Exchequer, with letters requesting work in London. Eventually, on 19th March 1696, he received a reply, notifying him that he had been recommended for the position of Warden of the Royal Mint. Newton eagerly accepted and had reported for duty within the month.

Based at the Tower of London where the Mint made the coins of the realm, the Warden’s job was to enforce laws against counterfeiting. The office had been viewed as a largely symbolic position that required little work. However, Newton took the role extremely seriously and relished the challenge. Whether Montague intended it that way or not, his decision to allow Newton to apply his scientific methodology and towering intellect to the currency crisis was to prove an inspired one.

The Tower of London, pictured in 1737

Counterfeiting was a thriving industry in Britain when Newton arrived at the Tower of London to take up his new position. Around ten per cent of coins in circulation were fakes, cast or stamped from forged or stolen moulds and dies. In addition, the value of silver on the continent was greater than its face value on coins. As a result, huge numbers of silver coins were withdrawn from circulation, melted and taken abroad to be sold at a tidy profit. Genuine coins were often hoarded, thus proving Gresham’s law that “bad money drives out good”.

Counterfeiters would clip metal from coins (left) and use the clippings to make new coins (right).
Some counterfeit coins, such as those produced by William Chaloner, were of exceptionally high quality

Newton’s solution to the problem involved a Great Recoinage. This enormous operation involved taking in millions of pounds of coins by weight and re-minting them at their correct value. He organised a production line of 500 men at the Tower of London, and over the next four years, they smelted most of England’s money supply. To assist them, branch mints were established at Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich, and York. Knowing that some counterfeiters had access to stolen Royal Mint equipment, Newton told the officers at these country mints to “trust not the computations of a single Clerk nor any other eyes than your own.”

On Newton’s orders, Mint employees worked six days a week from 4 a.m. to midnight. Before he arrived, no one thought the Mint could produce 15,000 coins in a week. Newton soon had them turning out 50,000 coins every week, and between 1696 and 1699, the value of silver struck was over £5.1 million, compared to £3.3million coined in the preceding 35 years.

Newton’s position as Warden of the Mint also meant that it was his responsibility to track down and prosecute counterfeiters. Chasing crooks was not something that particularly appealed to him, and he wrote a letter to the Treasury asking if he could be excused this particular duty. They reminded him that it was part of his job description, and so he set to work with his customary zeal and single-minded determination. To assist him, Parliament passed the Coin Act in 1696, making it an act of treason to make coins, construct, sell or possess the equipment required to make coins or assist anyone making coins. The punishment for doing so was death.

Newton was now able to devote more time to his primary duty of investigating and bringing to justice the counterfeiters and clippers. He went undercover himself and visited notorious bars, taverns and other dens of iniquity in London where criminals gathered to recruit informants and purchase information.

Newton went to bars and taverns gather evidence

Newton hired private “thief-takers” to locate counterfeiters and their equipment. Records show that he personally tracked criminals to their lairs and interrogated them in person. He became a regular visitor at the rat-infested Newgate Prison, where he conducted more than 58 interviews. Between June 1698 and December 1699, he conducted more than 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers, and suspects to build watertight cases against the accused. Newton gathered evidence to successfully prosecute 28 counterfeiters, most of whom went to the gallows and paid the ultimate penalty for their crimes

However, Newton’s biggest challenge was to prosecute the most prolific counterfeiter of the age. It took Newton many months to build a successful case against this kingpin of the criminal underworld, and soon he was working full time on this one goal. Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, every great detective needs a worthy adversary. Newton’s was a man called William Chaloner, a resourceful and cunning counterfeiter of exceptional ability with ambitions to run The Royal Mint.

Chaloner was born in poverty, the son of a weaver in Lincolnshire. He ran away to London as a young man and started at the very bottom of the criminal ladder, hawking and scamming unwary passers-by on street corners. He possessed an enquiring mind and the gift of the gab and sometimes pretended to be a doctor to sell remedies for imaginary ailments that he would diagnose on the spot.

To provide a legitimate front for his business dealings, Chaloner set himself up as a recoverer of stolen property. Of course, he was able to do this because he had arranged for the property to be stolen in the first place. He also had a brief career informing on enemies of the state, paying Jacobites to print dissident literature and then betraying them to the authorities and pocketing the reward money. Eventually, his luck ran out, and he was named a suspect in a burglary case in 1690, which forced him to flee and go into hiding.

It was a chance meeting with a craftsman who showed him how to gild surfaces that made Chaloner’s fortune but ultimately took him to the gallows. He quickly realised the potential for counterfeiting gold and silver money, and over a lucrative eight-year career, he is believed to have counterfeited over £30,000 worth of currency.

Counterfeiting made Chaloner a very wealthy man. He bought a large house in the semi-rural suburb of Knightsbridge, rode in a carriage, wore fine clothes and presented himself to high society as a gentleman. After forging “Birmingham Groats”, he moved on to more lucrative Guineas, French Pistoles, crowns and half-crowns, Banknotes and lottery tickets

Chaloner developed a sophisticated casting method that involved pouring molten metal into high-quality brass moulds and set up a factory in Egham 20 miles outside London. It was said that he was so pleased with the quality of the counterfeits he was producing that it upset him to see them used as it spoiled their perfection!

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Montagu, who appointed Newton the Warden of the Mint

Ultimately, Chaloner’s giant ego was his undoing. A few months before Newton took up his post, Chaloner had written to the Government claiming to have evidence that men working at the Mint were selling duplicates of the casts used to make coins. Of course, he didn’t tell them that he only knew this because he had purchased one of these casts for himself! When Newton heard of the letter, he immediately launched an investigation and interviewed more than 30 suspects to determine whether there was any truth in the accusations. Meanwhile, Chaloner tried to involve himself in the investigation and revealed his real purpose for writing the letter. He wanted Parliament to let him run the Royal Mint to sort out the mess!

Chaloner wrote letters, published pamphlets and was even invited to appear before Parliamentary committees, arguing that only he could solve England’s counterfeiting problem. He even went so far as to publicly accuse Newton of incompetence and possibly even fraud in managing the Great Recoinage. Newton was furious at this slur on his reputation, and so began a game of cat-and-mouse in which Chaloner sought to persuade Parliament to give him control of the Mint while Newton secretly compiled evidence to expose him as the chief counterfeiter in England.

Newton discovered that Chaloner had been arrested repeatedly for various scams and had even served time in jail for petty offences. However, because there were no centralised criminal records at the time, it had been easy for him to move from place to place and start again each time he was released. Astonishingly, Newton discovered that in 1694, Chaloner had been caught red-handed in the act of forging banknotes. He had talked his way out of prosecution on that occasion by naming people who he claimed were the real counterfeiters behind the operation. He even ended up receiving a reward for his information!

Much to Newton’s frustration, in 1697, Parliament ordered him to provide Chaloner with the resources to make prototypes of a new currency that he had proposed to them. Newton refused, so Chaloner went ahead and made them anyway using stolen casts. When Newton found out through his informer network, he immediately had Chaloner arrested. Chaloner quickly paid a key witness to flee to Scotland, and without him, the case against him collapsed. Newton then went to Parliament to voice his suspicions about Chaloner, but these were dismissed, and Chaloner went back to offering his services to run the Royal Mint, whilst simultaneously producing forged £50 banknotes and lottery tickets!

After that, Newton dedicated himself solely to the task of building a robust case against Chaloner. He worked relentlessly and with a single-minded determination to gather evidence for the prosecution. He methodically bribed, threatened and bullied witnesses for information that would allow his spies and informants to infiltrate Chaloner’s sophisticated counterfeiting operation. Eventually, there was enough evidence to arrest him again, and this time Newton even arranged for informants to be locked up with him to report back on anything that he said in custody.

Newgate Prison

When the trial finally came, Newton assembled eight witnesses to testify against Chaloner, including the wife of the man he had paid to run away to Scotland. She was willing to speak in court because Chaloner had scammed them out of money as well. Such was the weight of evidence against him that the jury quickly reached their verdict and sentenced the counterfeiter to hang.

Chaloner appealed for mercy from his condemned cell in Newgate Prison and wrote to Newton several times, begging him to save his life. His final letter concluded with the piteous words; “Oh dear Sir nobody can save me but you. O God my God I shall be murdered unless you save me.” Newton did not respond.

On 22nd March 1699, there was nothing left for Newton’s great adversary to do but protest to the people who had come to watch him hang at Tyburn that “he was murder’d … under pretence of Law”. He suffered a miserable death choking for several minutes at the end of the rope, much to the amusement of the jeering crowd.

The Tyburn tree, where Chaloner met his grisly fate in 1699

It is doubtful that Newton was at Tyburn that day to witness this culmination of months of hard work. In his notebook, he wrote simply that “Chaloner could have lived a long, honest life had he let the money and Government alone.”

HRH Prince Philip and his work with coin design

In the last week, millions of words have been written in tribute about Prince Philip’s life and legacy as the longest royal consort in British history. However, one often overlooked fact is that, for almost half of his life, he also influenced the designs that appeared on British coinage.

When his wife became Queen following the death of her beloved father King George VI on 6th February 1952, Philip immediately gave up the naval career that he loved to take up his new royal duties as her consort. It was a role that he would perform with great distinction for the rest of his life, even though he would later joke that it made him “the world’s most experienced plaque unvelier.”

In 1952, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was keen to utilise the problem solving and leadership abilities that the young consort had acquired in the navy. His quick thinking and resourcefulness under fire had helped save the crew of the HMS Wallace in 1943 during the Allied invasion of Sicily. Coming under sustained attack, he quickly devised a plan to throw a smoking wooden raft overboard as a decoy. The ruse worked, and the Luftwaffe bombed the raft as the ship escaped.

To put his talents to good use, Philip was invited to chair the committee responsible for organising his wife’s coronation. Against the prime minister’s objections, Philip persuaded the Queen to allow television cameras into Westminster Abbey to broadcast the ceremony live to millions of people.  By doing so, he created a boom in television sales throughout the country.  For many people, their first experience of watching television in the home was watching the coronation. 

A few months before the coronation, Churchill asked Philip to become President of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, which exists to raise the standard of coin design in Britain. The RMAC ensures that designs meet the high technical and artistic standards required, and they recommend which should appear on coins, medals, seals and decorations. The Prince wrote later that Churchill’s invitation came out of the blue, and it took him some time to find out what the job entailed. He was immediately faced with an urgent situation, as the committee had to organise the design of an entirely new set of coins for the new reign.   

Artist Mary Gillick (1881-1965) was selected to design the new Queen’s portrait, who she depicted wearing a laurel wreath and ribbons in her hair.  The reverse designs agreed for the new coinage included the sixpence, which depicted interlinked plants from all corners of the United Kingdom, a rose, thistle, shamrock and leek, each with a leaf from the same stem.  The half-crown depicted a heraldic crowned scrolled shield flanked on each side by the new royal monogram ‘ER’.

Philip served as President of the RMAC for the next 47 years, only stepping down in 1999. During his time in office, he chaired the meetings that approved the designs of Britain’s first decimal coins and the next three of the Queen’s official UK coinage portraits.

To help the public distinguish between old money and decimal currency, a new portrait of the Queen was introduced in 1968. Designed by Arnold Machin (1911-1999), he depicted the Queen wearing her tiara, a wedding present from her grandmother Queen Mary. 

In 1985, the Queen’s coin portrait changed again.  Sculptor Raphael Maklouf declared that he intended to “create a symbol, regal and ageless”. He depicted the monarch wearing a necklace, earrings and the royal diadem that she usually wears during the State Opening of Parliament. 

The Queen’s fourth coin portrait, created by Ian Rank-Broadley, appeared on coins in 1997. He chose to present the monarch’s “poise and bearing” and depicted her wearing the tiara from her second portrait. The Queen was seventy when the new design was created, and her advancing years are reflected in the portrait, which was widely acclaimed for its realism.  

Since Prince Philip stepped down as President of the RMAC, the Queen’s appearance has only changed once more on the nation’s coinage. In 2015, artist Jody Clark became the first employee of The Royal Mint to design the monarch’s coin portrait since 1902.  In her official fifth portrait, the Queen wears the diamond diadem she wore in her third portrait.

In 2008, Prince Philip recalled that he found it a fascinating challenge to getting his team of experts to agree on which designs to recommend for use. In that time, he developed a good understanding of the complexities of designing coins, appreciating that one side of the coin influences the other when the metal is struck.  Above all, he recognised that coins must achieve a practical purpose whilst reflecting contemporary tastes and attitudes.  

Many of the coins that we still carry in our pockets and purses today look the way they do because of the design meetings that Prince Philip chaired during his many years of distinguished and faithful service.

Byzantine Coins, the Shroud of Turin and the Holy Grail

Byzantine bronze follis struck AD 969-976 and the face on the Shroud of Turin

Since I was a small boy, I have been fascinated by the Shroud of Turin, where the paths of history, science and faith combine in one unique artefact. Irrespective of your religious beliefs, any student of history or science will find much to captivate them in the faint image of a crucified man that appears on the ancient cloth. Whether the linen once wrapped the dead body of Jesus Christ or is the work of a more recent medieval forger, the mystery of how the image is imprinted remains unsolved, even with twenty-first-century technology. It is my view that the image of Christ that appears on Byzantine coinage provides compelling evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity and a plausible solution to one of history’s greatest enigmas – the location of the mythical Holy Grail itself.    

A New Acquisition

At some time during the short but distinguished reign of Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes (AD 969- 976), an artist working at the Constantinople Mint was entrusted with the task of engraving an image of Jesus Christ for a new bronze follis. Earlier emperors had depicted Christ on gold and silver coins, but this was the first time that his likeness would appear on a mass-produced circulating coin. 

The Emperor’s decision to depict Christ on his coinage instead of his own portrait may have been prompted by an exciting new acquisition. Constantinople had recently taken ownership of the holiest relic in Christendom, a mysterious image of Christ ‘not made by human hands’ but miraculously transferred onto a cloth, it was said, by Christ himself. Although it was considered too holy to go on public display at the time, our coin engraver would almost certainly have been granted the privilege of entering the Pharos chapel of Constantinople’s Imperial Palace for a special viewing in order to capture a good likeness.

The cloth had arrived in Constantinople amidst much rejoicing on 15th August 944 after being acquired from the city of Edessa (today, Urfa in Southern Turkey).  According to local legend, it had been presented to King Abgar of Edessa by Jesus’ disciples when he became the first ruler to convert to Christianity. However, when the King died, the city reverted to paganism, and the cloth was hidden to protect it.  Workers repairing the city walls in AD 525 stumbled upon it in a niche high above one of the main gates. 

Images of the Mandylion

Rediscovery

The rediscovery of the Edessa Cloth (or Mandylion) sparked considerable excitement throughout the Christian world.  One contemporary account described the image as “a moist secretion with no paint or artistic craft transferred with no artistic intervention on the cloth”.

Since the New Testament provide no clues about Christ’s physical appearance, pilgrims flocked to Edessa to observe what they believed to be His true likeness. From the Sixth Century onwards, artists increasingly depicted him with the distinctive facial features that appear on the cloth – long hair with a centre parting, large owl-like eyes, a long prominent nose, a full moustache and a slightly forked beard. 

Contemporary paintings made of the Mandylion suggest that it was kept in a wide rectangular frame with a hole cut into the centre through which the bearded face could be viewed. It is interesting to note that artists who painted the face often framed it within a circle. Could this be the origin of the halo, or nimbus that became a popular symbol of holiness in medieval art?   

The First Depiction

Gold coin of Justinian II (AD 692-695)

The first coins to depict Christ were struck almost three centuries earlier during the reign of Emperor Justinian II (AD 692–695). On that occasion, the coin engravers may have made the 800 mile trip to Edessa to see the Mandylion for themselves. Both the gold solidus and the smaller gold tremissis (one third the weight of the solidus) incorporate many intricate details present in the mysterious image. However, political instability in the region may have restricted future access to the cloth, and later designs appear to have been copies of the first strikes. During the Eighth Century, a fierce debate raged through the Eastern Church about whether it was heretical to make images of the Son of God. Many paintings of Christ were destroyed, and no coins were struck bearing his image for over a Century until the debate was resolved. 

The mass circulating bronze coin of Emperor John I Tzimiskes marked the first in a series of what has become known as anonymous Byzantine folles. For the next 123 years, successive emperors chose to depict Christ on their circulating coins instead of their own portraits, which is why they are collectively described as anonymous. Whilst doing so may have been no more than an act of piety, it also allowed them to promote their holiest relic throughout the ancient world. On the reverse of the coins, several different inscriptions boldly identify the face that appears on them. The most common is the four-lined IHSUS XRISTUS BASILEU BASILE (‘Jesus Christ King of Kings’). There is also a popular cross symbol with two letters in each quarter, IC XC NI KA (‘May Jesus Christ Conquer’). 

Anonymous Bronze follis (AD 969-976)

The Engraver’s Art

Engraving a portrait directly onto a small circular die required formidable talent, consummate patience and perfect vision.  Given the large number of circulating bronze coins required to circulate through the empire, a relatively simple design would have been required so that the Mint could replace the dies quickly as they wore out.  This posed another challenge to the Mint engravers as there would be no time to create the intricate and exquisitely detailed dies which had been crafted for the more prestigious gold coins.  They had to work quickly using a design that was relatively easy to replicate over and over again to keep the coins coming. 

I am going to suggest, for reasons which will hopefully become apparent, that our engraver took a novel approach to create his coin design for the bronze follis. Unable to create a beautiful portrait incorporating detailed facial features, he instead carefully copied the faint lines that make up the image. The result may have lacked the elegance of the gold coins but accurately replicated the mysterious face on Constantinople’s most important holy relic, which was presumably his brief.

The Mandylion Stolen

So, how successful was the coin designer in copying the image from the Cloth of Edessa?  To answer that, we have to determine whether it has survived to enable us to make a comparison. In 1204, Constantinople was attacked and plundered by the French-led Fourth Crusade.  It was later reported that the crusaders had” taken many relics, including the linen in which our Lord was wrapped’.  The Mandylion, with its mysterious ghost-like image, slipped quietly into legend. 

The attack on Constantinople by the French led Fourth Crusade in 1204

Without the original cloth, inferior copies made of the ‘true image’ (Latin: vera icon) soon took on a mythical quality of their own. A new origin story emerged in the 14th Century in which a woman from Jerusalem wiped Christ’s face with her veil as he carried his cross to his crucifixion, only to find a supernatural image of his face imprinted on it. The event does not appear in any of the New Testament accounts, and the name Veronica is most likely a corruption of the words ‘vera icon’. Several churches claim to possess either the true veil or an ancient copy. In reality, they are most likely early copies of the image on the Edessa Cloth made before it was stolen from Constantinople in 1204.

The Templar Connection

There is strong evidence that the real Mandylion was entrusted to the safekeeping of the warrior monks known as the Knights Templar, who were fiercely protective of their most precious treasure and kept its location a closely guarded secret.  A Vatican researcher recently claimed to have unearthed a Templar initiation rite from 1287. In it, a young Frenchman called Arnaut Sabbatier testified that he was “shown a long piece of linen on which was impressed the figure of a man and told to worship it, kissing the feet three times“.

The Templar leaders are executed

When the Knights Templar fell out of favour with the Pope, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay was arrested with sixty of his knights in a dawn raid on Friday 13th October 1307. Charged with heresy, which included worshipping the image of a bearded man, years of torture and imprisonment followed, but they refused to divulge the whereabouts of the treasure they guarded.

Eventually, the King of France lost patience and had Moloy and his deputy, the Templar ‘draper’ Geoffrey de Charny, burnt at the stake in Paris on 18th March 1314. 

From Lirey to Turin

In 1349, a distinguished French Knight, also called Geoffrey de Charny, requested permission from Pope Clement VI to display the burial shroud of Christ in his hometown of Lirey. It is highly probable that he was a descendant of the man who died alongside Moloy in Paris, although the family always refused to explain how such a remarkable object had come into their possession. This led one local bishop to denounce the shroud as being “cunningly painted … a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed“.

After Charny was killed fighting the battle of Poitiers in 1356, his family displayed the Shroud to the public and struck special souvenir pilgrim badges, depicting its distinctive double imprint of a human body and bearing the Charny family’s heraldry.

Souvenir pilgrim badge struck by the Charny family

In 1453 Geoffrey de Charny’s elderly grand-daughter Marguerite de Charny, knowing she would die childless, passed the Shroud to the pious Duke Louis I of Savoy. His successors installed it at their then capital, Chambery where it was folded up and placed in a silver casket. In 1532 a fire swept through the chapel, and a drop of molten silver from the casket burned a hole through the folded layers of fabric within. Fortunately, the image was left more or less intact, and in 1578 the Savoy family moved the cloth to their new capital Turin, where it resides to this day. In 1983 ownership of the Shroud was officially transferred to the Roman Catholic Church.

Scientific Investigation

The Shroud of Turin
Photographic negative

Today, the Shroud of Turin is the most studied historical artefact in the world. The scientific community began to take an interest after amateur photographer Secondo Pia photographed the face for the first time in May 1898. As he developed the image in his darkroom, he nearly dropped the photographic plate in shock. The negative revealed details of the face that had never been seen before. Pia was accused of tampering with the image and had to wait until the Shroud was publicly displayed again in 1931 before another photograph could be taken to validate his startling discovery.

In October 1978, an international team comprising over 40 scientists was granted unprecedented access to the Shroud for five days. Calling themselves the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), they included a nuclear physicist, a thermal chemist, a biophysicist, an optical physicist, a forensic pathologist and specialist photographers. They brought over eighty tonnes of scientific equipment to Turin to determine how the image had been formed and where it had been.

Three years later, STURP published their findings, concluding that “there are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image“.

The image shows the anatomically correct human form of a scourged and crucified man with wounds consistent with the Biblical accounts of Christ’s crucifixion. These include a bleeding scalp, a severe scourging with multi-pronged whips, wounds in the wrists and feet and an elliptical wound in the side that appears to have been made by a spear.

No pigments, paints or dyes were found on the linen fibres that would account for the image, meaning that the image cannot be the work of an artist. The bloodstains that cover the cloth are human and contain a high concentration of bilirubin, produced when a body is suffering extreme stress and pain. Curiously, the blood was present on the linen before the image formed around it. Pollen grains taken from the cloth have been identified as coming from plants that flower in Jerusalem, Edessa and Constantinople, suggesting that the Shroud has spent time in these locations.

More Than A Face

One problem with linking the Shroud of Turin with the Cloth of Edessa is that the latter was often described as bearing an image of Jesus’ face while he was still alive and not an image of his whole body laid out in death. However, it would have made practical sense for the original custodians of the cloth to disguise the fact that it once wrapped a dead body. Grave clothes were considered untouchable and unclean by the deeply superstitious population, and it would have been far more palatable to display the face only and claim that the image had been miraculously transferred when Jesus was alive.

This might explain why the cloth was displayed in a wide rectangular frame with a hole cut into the centre to display only the face. The frame would have allowed room for a much longer cloth to be folded up inside it. Intriguingly, the original Edessan account of the cloth refers to it as being “tetradiplon“, which means four-folded. Analysis of fold marks on the Shroud of Turin confirms that it was indeed folded in this way for a considerable time.

There are also eyewitness reports that suggest that the Mandylion was a full-body image and not just a face. In the Eighth Century, Pope Stephen III (reigned AD 752 to 757) stated that Christ had “spread out his entire body on a linen cloth that was white as snow. On this cloth, marvellous as it is to see… the glorious image of the Lord’s face, and the length of his entire and most noble body, has been divinely transferred.” 

Later, an English monk called Orderic Vitalis, writing in about 1130, confirmed that the cloth bore “the majestic form of his whole body… supernaturally transferred“.

In 1203, a French knight called Robert de Clari visited Constantinople and described seeing “the Shroud in which the Lord had been wrapped raised upright so that one could see the figure of our Lord on it“.

Carbon Dating

Undoubtedly the greatest obstacle for linking the two cloths came in 1988 when laboratories in Oxford, Tucson and Zurich were granted permission to conduct a destructive Carbon 14 test on a sample cut from the Shroud of Turin to determine its age.  They later declared that the Shroud was a medieval forgery, made between 1260 and 1390.

Regrettably, the laboratories showed no interest in understanding how a medieval forger had imprinted a full length anatomically correct image of a victim of Roman crucifixion complete with unique photographic properties onto the linen. At the Press Conference, Professor Edward Hall, Director of the Oxford Research Laboratory, suggested that “someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it” as if this would have been an easy thing to do. Irrespective of when the linen was made, how the image came to be imprinted on it remains no less of a mystery.

Public exposition of the Shroud

In recent years, serious doubts have been cast on the validity of the 1988 test results. The test samples were cut from a corner of the cloth that priests had held up for hours at a time when displaying it to the faithful during outdoor expositions. We now know that smoke damage, prolonged exposure to the elements, and repeated handling can seriously affect the outcome of a Carbon 14 test.

Furthermore, in 2005 one of the original STURP scientists, Ray Rogers, examined a control sample cut for the test that was not destroyed and concluded that cotton had once been expertly woven into the ancient linen to repair the area and then dyed to disguise the repair. If correct, this would invalidate the 1988 results because it means that the samples cut from the corner “were not representative of the main Shroud“, which contains no cotton.  

New Research

In 2013, a team of scientists from several Italian Universities led by Professor Giulio Fanti published the results of their non-destructive chemical and mechanical tests on the Shroud. Using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Raman Spectroscopy, and other tests to measure the micro-mechanical characteristics of flax fibres such as tensile strength, the team was able to date the linen to “33 BC ± 250 years”.

To date, all attempts to date the Shroud using scientific methods have provoked controversy and accusations of bias, and the Catholic Church has wisely refused to have an official position regarding its authenticity. However, the new test results open up the genuine possibility that the Cloth of Edessa and the Shroud of Turin are the same historical artefact.

Facial Comparisons

I believe that the anonymous bronze follis struck between AD 969 and 976 make this connection even more compelling. The coins circulated throughout the Byzantine empire for many decades, meaning that surviving examples are often heavily worn. Frustratingly, the highest points on a circulating coin are inevitably the first to wear, so coins that still display clear facial features are rare. Fortunately, well-preserved examples exist, and we can see what the coin designer engraved onto the die simply by flipping the image that appears on the struck coin. When flipped and viewed alongside an image of the face on the Shroud, the similarities are extraordinary, especially when you consider that our engraver was working on an area little more than a centimetre in diameter.

Byzantine Follis (AD 969-976) compared with the face on the Shroud of Turin

Most striking of all is the distinctive cross shape incorporating the eyebrows, forehead and nose. There is a long horizontal band above the eyes, bisected by a long vertical line that starts at the hairline and extends downwards to become a long nose. The base of the nose connects to a smaller horizontal line that forms the moustache, which slopes down slightly on the left-hand side. There is a distinctive mark on the right cheek, and beneath the moustache is a small square and a forked beard. The long hair, which hangs down on both sides of the face, has two parallel strands of hair at the bottom left of the image. These features can be seen clearly on the Shroud image, and the result is a coin that resembles the Shroud image far too closely to be dismissed as a coincidence.

Byzantine Follis (AD 1028-1041) showing detail on the forehead that matches a bloodstain on the Shroud

A later bronze follis struck in Constantinople about fifty years later incorporates additional details that suggest that coin artists continued to have access to the original image. Intriguingly, there is a tiny mark in the centre parting of the hair in the forehead that resembles the inverted “3” shaped bloodstain that appears on the Shroud in the same area. In addition, the coin artist has replicated the way that the long hair appears to bunch at the shoulders. The eyebrows are represented with a long horizontal line, and there is the suggestion that the right eyebrow is slightly higher than the left. There is also a wound-like mark on the right cheek, a moustache that appears to slope down to the left and, most striking of all, a horizontal band across the throat.

Once again, I would suggest that the similarities are too many and too specific to be a coincidence.

Ramifications

So, if we are to consider these startling similarities to be compelling numismatic evidence that the coin artists working at the Constantinople Mint saw and copied the face on the Shroud of Turin, then the ramifications are significant. It means that the Shroud is considerably older than the flawed Carbon dating results indicate. It also provides compelling evidence that the Cloth of Edessa and the Shroud of Turin are one and the same. It is frankly inconceivable that there were two linen cloths present in Christendom at the same time, both containing a mysterious image of Jesus not made by human hands.

There is an additional, intriguing implication of this research. According to legend, the holiest relic protected by the Templars was the Holy Grail, a mysterious vessel that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, used to collect Jesus’ blood in at his crucifixion.  The grail is often associated with the cup that Jesus used in his last supper with his disciples before his death.  But why the Romans executing Jesus would have permitted one of his followers to catch his blood in a drinking cup makes no sense at all.  So, could this vessel be something else? 

The New Testament may provide us with the answer. Could it be that the vessel that Joseph of Arimathea used to contain Jesus’ blood in was not a drinking cup at all, but the blood-stained linen cloth that wrapped around Jesus’ crucified body in the tomb?    

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate (the Roman governor), he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.” (Matthew 27:57-60 NIV)

Does the face of Jesus struck onto the coins of the Byzantine Empire reveal that the lost Cloth of Edessa, the legendary Holy Grail and the mysterious Shroud of Turin are, in fact, the same historical artefact? 

Maundy Money

Every Maundy Thursday, Her Majesty the Queen distributes small leather purses to a selected group of men and women. Each purse contains a gift of money, which include four small legal tender silver coins, struck especially for the ceremony at the personal request of the monarch.

Maundy coins are very special. They are steeped in royal tradition and no other coins can claim to have such a direct personal connection to the monarch. She signs the order for The Royal Mint to produce them and personally distributes them to the recipients, chosen for their service to the church or community.

With so few Maundy coins struck each year, and their recipients naturally keen to treasure a gift that has been personally presented to them by their sovereign, these treasured pieces of British history rarely appear on the market, making them highly collectable. They are so rare that few people ever get to see them, much less hold them in their hands.

A Gift of Love

The ancient ceremony of Royal Maundy can be traced back to the Bible, and specifically to the last instructions given by Jesus to his disciples on the Thursday night before his crucifixion the following day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)

This instruction forms the opening words of the Maundy ceremony and the word Maundy is derived from the Latin ‘mandatum’ meaning command. The Royal Maundy gifts are to fulfil Jesus’ command given to his followers to love one another.

Royal Maundy

The practice of demonstrating Christ’s love to the poor on Maundy Thursday can be traced back to the fourth century when deserving recipients had their feet washed and were presented with gifts of food and clothing. The first recorded instance of a monarch personally taking part in the ceremony was in Rochester in 1213, when King John presented 13 poor men with 13 pence and washed their feet on Maundy Thursday. By the time of the Tudor era, the monarch’s attendance at the Maundy ceremony had developed into a regular custom, and the event had become known as “Royal Maundy’.

The tradition of making the number of Maundy recipients equal to the monarch’s age appears to have started in 1363 when the then fifty-year-old King Edward III presented gifts to fifty poor men. This tradition was made an official decree by King Henry IV and has been a central part of the Maundy service ever since. It is why in 2019 the then 93-year-old Queen distributed Maundy money to 93 men and 93 women.

An Evolving Tradition

The Tudor monarchs introduced a custom in which one particularly deserving Maundy recipient was given their Maundy robe at the end of the ceremony. This practice was stopped by Queen Elizabeth I who substituted the gift of her robe for twenty silver shillings. Henceforth, it became the custom for the monarch to bestow a second monetary gift, which meant that a second purse was required. The red purse that had been used to contain the gift of pennies was now used for silver shillings and a new white purse was introduced to contain the pennies. The additional monetary allowance in place of the Maundy robe was suspended in 1731 but reinstated in 1759, where it has survived to the present day.

The presence of the monarch at the Maundy ceremony waned during the later years of the reign of King Charles I and between 1649 and 1660 there was no monarch in England to participate in the ceremony. Following the Restoration of the Monarchy, the new King, Charles II was very keen to revive the Royal Maundy tradition and personally distributed money and gifts to the poor. He even restored the practice of washing the feet of the poor in person, though this did not last. It is believed that his brother and successor King James II was the last monarch to personally wash the feet of the poor in 1685.

Until the joint reign of William and Mary in 1689, the sovereign had participated in annual Maundy ceremonies for four centuries. However, there is no record of any participation by a monarch at a Royal Maundy ceremony after 1698 until the Twentieth Century. Queen Anne was too infirm to attend and the Hanoverian monarchs were content to send a representative from the Royal household. While George III and a young Queen Victoria both attended the Maundy ceremony on at least one occasion as spectators, neither took an active part in the service.

At the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1838, the decision was made to replace the gift of food with money. Clothing was still distributed as part of the ceremony until 1882 when this was replaced by an additional monetary gift. From then on, only coins have been presented to recipients during the ceremony.

To avoid the Royal Maundy becoming an ‘empty’ ceremony, it was deemed essential to restore royal connections with the service. In 1932 King George V became the first monarch since the 17th Century to personally present Maundy purses to their recipients. In 1936 King Edward VIII distributed Maundy money at Westminster Abbey, one of the very few public commitments undertaken during his short one year reign. The coins used in the ceremony bore the image of his late father; he abdicated before any coins could be issued bearing his likeness.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the Maundy ceremony has been firmly re-established. Before 2020, there had only been four years when the Queen had not presented the Maundy money in person: twice when she was about to go into labour, and twice when she was away visiting countries in the Commonwealth. When the global Covid pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 Royal Maundy services to be cancelled, the chosen recipients received their Maundy purses in the post with a letter from the Queen instead.

Today, following centuries of evolving tradition, the monarch will present each recipient with one red and one white purse. The red purse contains a total of £5.50 in circulating currency representing the robe, food and clothing allowances. The white purse contains the Maundy money minted especially for the ceremony. A set of four coins has a total face value of ten pence, and each purse contains a set for every decade of the monarch’s reign to date, with any remaining years represented in single coins.

Maundy Design

As the gift of money was always intended to be spent by the recipients, coins used before 1670 were no different from those struck for circulation. In medieval times only the penny and the groat (fourpence) were presented to the deserving poor. In 1551, the threepence was added, and in 1662 King Charles II issued an undated set of hammered coins comprising the fourpence, threepence, twopence and penny. However, it was not until 1670 that a dated set of all four especially struck coins appeared together for the first time.

The design of Maundy coins varied under the first eight monarchs to strike them. Charles II’s Maundy coinage displayed an interlinked letter ‘C’ on the reverse of the four silver Maundy coins, with the number of initials corresponding to the face value of the coin. For example, the fourpence featured four initials, the penny just one. This style continued under James II until 1688, replacing the letter ‘C’ with the letter ‘I’.

During the reign of William & Mary in 1689, an unnamed artist changed the reverse design to depict a crowned numeral. After the 59 year reign of King George III which saw four different designs used, coin engraver Jean Baptiste Merlen placed the crowned numeral within an oak wreath for the 1822 Maundy coinage. The crown was slightly altered in 1888 but since then the reverse design and size of the Maundy coins have remained unchanged making it the longest continuous coin series in British history.

Maundy coins were the only four British coins that did not change shape, size or design when the nation adopted the decimal currency. On Decimal Day, 15th February 1971, the old system of 20 shillings and 12 pence to the pound was replaced with 100 new pence in the pound. A new set of decimal coins were introduced, but the Maundy coins remained unaffected by the change. Each coin simply retained its numerical value as ‘new’ pence.

During her long reign, Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait has undergone five changes on ordinary circulating coins. However, every Maundy coin issued during her reign has used the original circulating portrait by artist Mary Gillick first issued in 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation. Gillick’s iconic depiction of the young monarch wearing a laurel wreath is now the longest-serving Royal portrait in British coinage history.

A Legacy in Silver

Maundy money provides an important connection with the very first coins struck in Britain over 1,300 years ago. Silver began to be used in English coinage in the Seventh Century and, for almost five centuries the silver penny was practically the only coin issued in England. The fourpence was added in 1279, the twopence in 1351 and the threepence in 1551. All were struck in sterling silver, with only a brief interruption when Henry VIII debased the coinage. When the nation’s circulating coinage moved from silver to copper in 1797 the four Maundy coins continued to be struck in sterling silver.

In 1920 the price of silver had risen dramatically and the silver content of all British silver coins, including Maundy money, was reduced from sterling silver (92.5%) to 50% silver to ease the financial burdens caused by the First World War. In 1947, the decision was made to replace all silver circulating coins with silver-coloured cupro-nickel coins. However, the original silver content of the Maundy money was reinstated, as it was felt that a gift from a monarch should be in sterling silver. This indicates the significance of the Maundy coinage and its unique place in British history.

Today’s silver Maundy money is an enduring legacy of a coinage standard maintained, with one brief interlude, from Saxon times. Given their unique royal connection and place within British coin history, it is easy to see why Maundy coins are considered so special.

Blood Money – The Shekel of Tyre

The silver tetradrachm (shekel) struck by the mint at Tyre features prominently in several pivotal events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as documented in the New Testament. It is likely to be the coin that Jesus told his disciple Simon Peter that he would find miraculously in the mouth of a fish. It was probably one of the coins that tumbled to the ground when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple courtyard. And perhaps most significant of all, it is believed to be the coin that Judas Iscariot received thirty of in exchange for betraying his master to the authorities.

By the time the ancient Phoenician port city of Tyre was conquered by the Macedonian King Alexander III “the Great” in 332 BC, it had already acquired a reputation within the region for the quality of its silver coinage. Coins continued to be struck there under the authority of the Greek kings, and when the Romans arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean, they permitted the mint to strike an ‘independent’ silver coinage from about 125 BC comprising silver tetradrachms (shekels) weighing about 14 grams, and didrachms (half shekels) weighing about 7 grams.

With only minor exceptions, the design of the coin remained constant for nearly two centuries. It was modelled on the tetradrachm struck by their last Greek king, Demetrius II, who was executed near Tyre in 125 BC. His portrait on the coin was replaced with the Tyre god Melkart, son of Baal. The reverse depicts an eagle with a palm branch over its shoulder and perched on the bow of a ship. The inscription can be translated, ‘Tyre, the Holy and Inviolable’ together with the date of issue, which allows them to be dated accurately.

Despite depicting the head of a pagan god and a graven image, both of which were deeply objectionable to neighbouring Jews, the silver coin struck at Tyre became the only currency accepted by the Jewish religious authorities to pay the annual temple tax. This is because it was struck in the purest silver available in the region (about 95%) making it significantly more valuable than the Roman silver coins imported from the Far East that contained only about 80% silver.

The temple tax was introduced by Moses the lawgiver, who instructed every adult male over the age of twenty to make the annual contribution of half a shekel. This was about two days wages for a skilled labourer, and the tax was to be used for the building and upkeep of the temple.

“The rich are not to give more than a half shekel, and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.” (Exodus 30:15 – NIV)

The modest sum enabled Jews of all economic levels to take part in the building of the temple, and when the construction was completed, the tax continued to be collected from every household to pay for the running costs of the temple.

In 18 BC, the letters’ KPA’ or ‘KP’ were added to the reverse of the coin, which has led some scholars to believe that the coin’s production moved from Tyre to a location in or close to Jerusalem itself. Given their reliance on the coin for the temple tax, if Tyre did stop producing the coins, the Jewish religious leaders would most likely have requested permission from the authorities to carry on making them in or near Jerusalem. The Romans prohibited the minting of local currency in Judea but may have been prepared to make an exception to keep the peace as long as they continued to use the same design. It has been suggested that the new letters may have been an acrostic that stood for “By Authority of the Roman Constitution”.

If true, then we have the astonishing spectacle of Jewish religious leaders seeking permission to strike a coin that they considered blasphemous, bearing a design that was expressly prohibited by the Ten Commandments. They would compel devout Jews to use this coin to pay their annual contribution for the upkeep of God’s Holy temple. One can only imagine what Moses would have made of that!

One Tyre shekel would pay the temple tax for two men, which is illustrated in Jesus’ exchange with his disciple, Simon Peter. When a tax collector challenged the disciple to say whether his master paid the temple tax, Simon Peter affirmed that he did. After pointing out that the sons of rulers are exempt from the taxation demanded by their fathers, Jesus gave him an unusual task to demonstrate both his miraculous power and his humility;

“But so that we may not cause offence, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:24-27 NIV).

The coin that the disciple found in the mouth of a fish was most likely a Tyre shekel, as only this would have been sufficient to pay the temple tax for both men.

For Israelites, the design of the Tyre shekel violated the first two of the Ten Commandments given to them by Moses, which forbade the use of foreign deities and graven images. Consequently, no self-respecting Jew would use this coin in their day-to-day transactions, particularly one which described a foreign city as holy. Nonetheless, since this was the only currency accepted by the Jewish religious leaders for the annual temple tax, it meant that the temple vault would have been filled with silver coins depicting a foreign god!

To pay the temple tax, devout Jews were compelled to exchange their regular currency for the ‘blasphemous’ silver coinage of Tyre. To facilitate this, a thriving market of money changers set up shop in the temple courtyards and charged hefty commissions for their services. Since Jews wishing to pay the temple tax had no alternative but to pay their inflated rates to obtain Tyre shekels and half shekels, this also violated Moses’ instruction that no individual should pay more or less than half a shekel.

This was the scene that greeted Jesus when he arrived at the temple shortly after making a triumphant arrival in Jerusalem in circa AD 30.

“Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers … And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'” (Matthew 21:12-13 NIIV)

Jesus’ outrage at finding money changers profiteering from the temple tax, together with his authoritative teaching and miraculous healings, alarmed the religious leaders who felt threatened by his popularity. As they began plotting how to have Jesus arrested and put to death, one of his disciples came to them with an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26:14-16 NIV)

Since shekels from Tyre were the only currency accepted at the Jerusalem Temple, these were likely to be the coins that Judas received for betraying his master. Within hours of betraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas realised the enormity of what he had done and, filled with remorse, tried to return the thirty silver coins to the chief priests, claiming that he had betrayed innocent blood. Now that they had their prize, the chief priests were indifferent to his anguish and told him that this was his responsibility. The New Testament informs us that Judas threw the shekels into the temple, went away and hanged himself.

Judas’ suicide presented the religious leaders with the dilemma of what to do with the coins;

“The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (Matthew 27:6-8 NIV)

Given the prominent role that the Tyre shekel played in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, it is hardly a surprise that the coin is highly desirable today. It is certainly a strange feeling to hold one in your hands and ponder that this is a design that Jesus and his followers would have known well.

Production of the Tyre shekel appears to have come to an end in about AD 66, possibly as a result of the outbreak of the first Jewish revolt which began that year. By that time, Rome had begun producing silver coinage with a significantly improved purity in neighbouring Syria.

Devout Jews continue to pay the temple tax to this day. Today, the sum is translated into local currency and donated to the needy.

The Tyre Shekel
Judas attempts to return the silver coins he has received for betraying Jesus
Simon Peter pays the temple tax with the coin he found in the mouth of the fish