Swedenborg Medal Issued by the Swedish Academy (1858)

medal5-30c.jpgOn one side of a small medal, a man in Roman dress stops beside a sheer rock face, bearing a lighted torch in his right hand.



medal5-30a.jpgAbove him is the Latin phrase “Quaerenti Defuit Orbis” (To the seeker, the world was found lacking). And below his feet: “Arcana Velo Sublato Adspexit Vates” (With the veil lifted the seer gazed upon mysteries). Underneath this is “MDCCLXXII” (1772, the date of Swedenborg’s death).


medal5-30b.jpgOn the opposite side is a left-facing bust of Emanuel Swedenborg, and his name.



beskowswedenborg.jpgThe medal was issued by the Swedish Academy (Svenska Akademien) in 1858 as a memorial tribute to Swedenborg. The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 for the purpose of advancing Swedish language and literature, and is today noted for awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a consequence of the minting of the medal, a memorial address for Swedenborg was delivered the following year on January 24th, 1859. The address was given by the secretary of the Academy, Baron Bernhard von Beskow, and was published as a book that same year (see photo above). The title page includes an artist’s rendering of both sides of the coin (click on photo below for close-up).

beskowcoin.jpgThe left-facing bust of Swedenborg on the obverse of the medal has the initials “L.A.” clearly written under his left shoulder. The initials are those of Lea Ahlborn (born Lundgren, 1826-1897, see a photo of her here), who served for 44 years as royal coin and medal engraver. She is remembered as the first female civil servant in Sweden’s history. Ahlborn’s rendering of Swedenborg was used again, many years later, on an aluminium medal struck to commemorate the moving of his summerhouse from Stockholm to Skansen.

The images on the reverse side of the medal are cryptic at first glance, but with a little research the meaning becomes apparent. The Latin phrase at the top reads: “Quaerenti Defuit Orbis” (To the seeker, the world was found lacking). The source for this quotation is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book Five, line 463. This is the story of Ceres’s (Greek Demeter) search for her abducted daughter Proserpina (Greek Persephone). She looks for her in every land and on every sea, throughout the known world. At night she wanders without rest, using torches, but her search is in vain because Pluto has taken Proserpina to the underworld. In this context the meaning of the male figure holding a torch on the Swedenborg medal is clear. Swedenborg had searched the world (perhaps meaning the natural sciences?) for answers to his questions, but, like Ceres, his search was in vain, for the answers were not in this world.

The Latin phrase at the bottom of the medal, “Arcana Velo Sublato Adspexit Vates MDCCLXXII” (With the veil lifted the seer gazed upon mysteries 1772), provides a coda to the statement at the top. The veil between the natural world and the spiritual world could not be lifted until Swedenborg’s spiritual eyes were opened. Once this had been accomplished he found the answers he was looking for.

The 1858 Swedish Academy medal of Emanuel Swedenborg was obtained by Glencairn Museum in 1997, with the assistance of Herman Gyllenhaal of Stockholm, Sweden (silver, 3cm diameter, 05.CO.590). For more information about Glencairn’s small collection of Swedenborg medals see here.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at info@newchurchhistory.org

May 31, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact