A friend tells me that his friend made some very interesting finds during his routine run around the mountains of Hong Kong looking for World War II relics. Apparently, buried military items including a charm pendant near a site that I am to swear to secrecy not to mention to a single soul. They had no right to be there, but their own research led them to the site they believed many personal effects of prisoners of war and perished soldiers, missionaries and nuns may be buried at the time of the Fall of Hong Kong in December 1941 to the Japanese assault. At least that was all I was told at the outset. I was lucky enough to find out about this intriguing excavation because they found a small charm pendant among the personal effects and military gear excavated. They thought given my love for vintage silver charms for bracelets and silver charm pendants for necklaces, I may know its significance or better still, who may have owned this lovely charm pendant.
That very day, I received two photos of what seemed to be a beautiful religious charm pendant that led me to research for a week. It was a thing of beauty. But that was not what fueled my inquisitive self to find out more. I was intrigued because of where it was found and that the charm pendant depicted Mother Mary and Jesus. I wanted to know more about the person who owned this lovely charm. My immediate thought was that it must have come from one of the nuns brutally murdered when the advancing Japanese troops broke all rules of engagement and took to the military hospital occupied by the Red Cross where rape and massacre of patients, VAD nurses and nuns with bayonet ensued that infamous Christmas morning in 1941, the very same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. A testimony before the International War Crimes Tribunal of a Canadian sister who became a prisoner of war at an internment camp, talked about the rapes and killings of the sisters and VAD nurses. But there is no mention of the denomination of the sisters.
With this in mind, you can see how I would have gone about starting my research. I was hell-bent in proving to myself that the charm pendant belonged to a Catholic sister who perished during the atrocity. I simply believed it was a matter of studying the pictures on the charm pendant to determine the nun’s denomination within the Catholic church, and in turn the convent or monastery in Hong Kong she may have belonged to spreading the Gospel at the time.
I am ashamed to admit, despite my years attending a Catholic school in Oxford and studying Theology, I had to research the significance of the cross that came with a wide base, the capital letter “M”, hearts, stars, chain, sword, and wreath depicted on the charm pendant. Luckily, the internet is a great place to find answers while public libraries are closed during times of Covid-19. I would not have imagined that when it came to pictures and explaining the significance of these symbols, there was no better place to start in finding the relevant information than what is shared on Pinterest.
On one side of the charm pendant, there is a clear image of Mother Mary holding infant Jesus in her arms. There appears to be stars above them and some words. Below the image of Mother Mary and infant Jesus, there is a picture of a cross with a wide base intertwined with the capital letter "M" and two “crowned” hearts at the bottom. One heart bound by a “chain” and the other a sword piercing through. One would imagine the cross to represent Christ or the church, sitting above the capital letter “M” being Mother Mary. But what of the “crowned” hearts with the “chain” and sword? Do they represent the qualities of Mother Mary? As for the twelve stars circling around the edge of this image, what do they represent? Then there is the other side of the charm pendant. It clearly shows a picture of what I must assume to be adult Jesus, with the full length of Our Lady Mary below.
I was most intrigued by the picture of the cross with the capital letter M and hearts. To my mind, that is probably the one part of the charm pendant that will tell me the most about the identity of its owner. A picture search of the image on the internet came back with the term “Miraculous Medal”. So this is what it was, the Miraculous Medal. The twelve stars represented the twelve apostles, representing the Church. The capital letter “M” stood for Mary and the cross refers to Christ, and the two are intertwined as a sign of their union. As for the “crowned” two hearts with the “chain” and sword? Well, the crowns are actually flames above the hearts. These represented the hearts of Jesus with a crown of thorn (not a chain) and the immaculate heart of Mary pierced with a dagger, the force of love that reaches total surrender. The flames stood for the burning love that Jesus and Mary had for all people.
The full length depiction of Our Lady Mary on the other side of this faded charm pendant, or what we now think is a Miraculous Medal, still shows the rays below her hands, symbolising that through Mary’s intercession, she sends God’s grace to the world. One can only imagine the oval frame around Mary must once have carried a clear inscription of the prayer “Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.”.
I started searching through old photos of Hong Kong from monasteries and convents that may possibly have pictures of nuns, monks or priests wearing the “Miraculous Medal”. The closest I could find were old photos of the sisters of Maryknoll from America wearing the Miraculous Medal. None of the photos showed the same charm pendant, where there are also images of the infant Jesus, or an adult Jesus on the other side. What the Maryknoll Sisters wore is known as the “Maryknoll Medal”. These were larger. The Maryknoll Medal was worn as the sisters vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience. Moreover, it was understood that none of the nuns who perished during the savage attack belonged to the Maryknoll Sisters. They were given special reprieve shortly after the Japanese invaded to leave for the United States, because they had a close alliance with a church in Japan before the war started. In reading about the design of the Maryknoll Medal, it was said that the whole “Scapular” was not adopted. What is a Scapular?
This is the name given to the beautiful charm pendant. A Scapular, where above the Miraculous Medal is a depiction of the image of Mother Mary and infant Jesus. The other side showed an image of Jesus with Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is said that Mary appeared to Saint Simon Stock, a leader of the Carmelites, and gave him a Scapular. It symbolized her special protection and calls those who wear it to consecrate themselves to her special ways. A Scapular is given to a believer of the Carmelite order at birth. It is to provide them with protection. One did not part with their Scapular until death. We know there was a Carmelite Monastery near the site where this Scapular is found. Perhaps it came from someone from the Order? I understand the Monastery was closed during the war. I was able to find on the internet one similar design Scapular being sold. It is described as being vintage art deco design from the 1930s.
While I learned a few things during my research into the story behind this beautiful Scapular, the truth is, I am none the wiser as to the identity of its owner. Could it have come from someone at the Carmelite Monastery? Or given the military uniform found in the same site, a soldier? A subsequent extract from an individual’s memoire shared with me suggests it may have been found with the military uniform and personal effects he had buried after the war belonging to the British and Canadian troops who perished or were taken to the internment camps. If this is the case, the owner is most likely a soldier. It would have been more obvious if the front of the Scapular carried a wing adornment on each side, as this is the more typical military Scapular worn by soldiers to give them peace and comfort during the war.
A Scapular is a sign of belonging to Mary, a pledge of her motherly protection, not only in life but after death. I may never get any closer to the identity of the owner of the gorgeous art deco Scapular, but we know the Scapular must have given this person some comfort during the Pacific War, being millions of miles from everything they have ever known, caught up in the Battle for Hong Kong that was destined to fail given all the odds stacked against them.
This blog was written on 27 February 2021. There is much more by way of topics one could explore around Scapulars, the Battle for Hong Kong, or even the early missionaries in Hong Kong. I certainly hope one day I will come across more information that will help me come closer to the identity of the owner of this beautiful charm pendant, Scapular.
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