Images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
The Iconography
Mary's heart is mentioned three times in Luke 2: twice when she "ponders" the events unfolding around the child Jesus "in her heart" (verses 19, 51) and once when Simeon prophesies, "thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed" (verse 35). In the 17th century, at the same time as the growing worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. John Eudes and other Roman Catholics promoted a parallel devotion to Mary's heart. This devotion led to an iconographic type in which Mary shows the viewer her heart, burning with love and pierced by the sword of Simeon's prophecy, as at left. It was referred to sometimes as the Sacred Heart of Mary, sometimes as the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In the 20th century Roman Catholic interest in the Heart of Mary, now firmly fixed to the "Immaculate" epithet, was stimulated by the visions of the three children at Fatima, one of whom reported that Mary had told her, "Jesus wants you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart."

Because the focus in the 19th and 20th centuries was less on Mary's suffering than on her love and her dignity as the virgin mother of Christ, pictures in this era often replace the sword with a chaplet of roses around the heart; sometimes they also add a stalk of lilies (example).

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2016-07-29.

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Painting in the Church of Sant'Eustachio, Rome (See the description page)

DATES

  • Before 1942 the Immaculate Heart of Mary was celebrated in various places on the second Sunday after the Feast of the Assumption (August 15) but on February 8 by the Society of Jesus and Mary (which was founded by St. John Eudes).
  • From 1942 till 1969, it was celebrated on August 22.
  • Since 1969: the Saturday after the second Sunday after Pentecost (the day after The Sacred Heart of Jesus).