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Coin exhibition explores history of money, culture and religion

Coins of Jesus: Money and Religion in the Ancient World on display in Nickle Galleries until Aug. 18

Ancient money on display in the University of Calgary's Nickle Galleries draws upon the university's world-class numismatics collection. Photo by Dave Brown, Libraries and Cultural Resources

By Marina Fischer

A stunning selection of Jewish, Christian and Islamic coins is now on display in the university’s Nickle Galleries in the exhibition Coins of Jesus: Money and Religion in the Ancient World. The gallery houses one of the most significant numismatic collections in Canada. Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects. 

Through ancient money, this exhibition explores the world’s religious history and its cultural and ideological diversity. It begins with Persian Imperial coins — the only coins referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible — and the renowned Phoenician shekels. Next, striking examples of Jewish, Judeo-Roman, Roman Christian and Byzantine gold, silver and bronze coinage — including coins of Pontius Pilate, Jewish Revolts and the first coin with Christ’s image. Finally, wide-ranging Islamic and medieval money plus the very first Islamic coin without pictorial symbols, the radical redesign which occurred at the end of the seventh century.

“This is an excellent and fascinating exhibition which highlights the unique strengths of the Nickle coin collection, the diversity of cultures it encompasses, and the high quality of its objects,” says Lindsay Driediger-Murphy from the Department of Classics and Religion. “Whether you are interested in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or pre-Christian Greek and Roman religion, there is something here for everyone.”

Earlier this spring, the department hosted a major conference of the Classical Association of the Canadian West. A tour of this exhibition was a highlight of the event. In teaching, too, the exhibition and the Nickle collection give the department endless opportunities.

“Ancient material culture is not easy to access in Alberta. For many of our students, the Nickle coin collection is their first opportunity to engage directly with objects made and held by the ancient people we study,” says Driediger-Murphy. “It is always a thrill to see how the coins bring the material to life, and how they amaze and inspire our community.”

Coins of Jesus includes a few key objects on loan from private collectors who continue to support the growing collection.

“The Nickle coin collection is a rich teaching and research resource, providing for the interest and enjoyment of the university and the community as a whole,” says Marina Fischer, exhibition curator and numismatic specialist at Nickle Galleries. “Visitors will find the exhibition an intellectually and artistically rewarding journey.”

The significant founding donation of numismatics was presented to the University of Calgary in 1980 by Carl O. Nickle. It has since been broadened through the generosity of The Nickle Family Foundation and others. View the full collection here.

Coins of Jesus runs until Aug. 18. The display is located in the Gallery Hall window on the main floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library.