ROME — It seems absurd that any official Vatican memorabilia would misspell one name above all names. And yet: A new series of special commemorative coins honoring Pope Francis got it wrong.
They call the son of God “Lesus.”
“Everybody makes mistakes,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Friday. “Even people who make coins.”
The Vatican confirmed Friday that it had withdrawn 6,000 coins commemorating Francis’ first year in the papacy that went on sale Tuesday. The coins had been distributed to retailers — and at least four sold, according to Britain’s Independent newspaper — when it was discovered that “Jesus” had been rendered as “Lesus” in a Latin phrase engraved around the edge of the coin.
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The phrase by the Venerable Bede, a seventh-century theologian, is one the future pontiff says inspired him as a teenager to pursue the priesthood: “Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum et quia miserando antque eligendo vidit, ait illi sequere me.” (Translation: “Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him: ‘Follow me’ ”).
Francis picked his motto, “miserando atque eligendo,” which loosely translates as “lowly but chosen,” from the longer phrase.
Lombardi acknowledged that the Vatican was responsible for the error, made when the coin was being designed. But he seemed mildly amused by the matter. “If only these were the problems we had to deal with,” he said, laughing.
Twitter users also found it amusing. A user with the Twitter handle BruvverEccles, alluding to the religious order Francis belongs to, wrote: “I blame the Lesuits.”
Daniel Burke, who coedits a religion blog on CNN.com, wrote: “For the love of Lesus, the Vatican could sure use an infallible copyeditor.”
The Vatican has not decided whether to mint new coins, but if it does, the value of the flawed versions could skyrocket for collectors, experts said. The medals were in bronze priced at 80 euros each ($108); silver at about $135; and gold for $203.
“Regardless of what the Vatican decides to do now, it’s an interesting purchase for a collector,” said Francesco Santarossa, owner of a numismatic and philatelic shop near St. Peter’s Square in Rome. “I don’t think they ever made such a mistake in the 600-year-long history of papal medals.”