Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows)
The Iconography
The Sorrowful Mother is an image of Mary as she was when she stood by the side of Jesus' cross. Often the breast is pierced by a sword, as a reminder of Simeon's remark in Luke 2:22-38 that "thy own soul a sword shall pierce." (The first picture at right is an example.) Or it may be pierced by seven swords (as in the second picture) to represent the "Seven Sorrows" that Mary is said to have suffered:
  1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35)
  2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13)
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:43-45)
  4. Meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary
  5. The Crucifixion
  6. The Deposition of Jesus' body from the Cross
  7. The burial of Jesus
Instead of a sword a statue of the Sorrowful Mother may have a stylized heart pinned to it, as in the third picture. That picture is typical of santos in Latin countries, where they are most often called La Madre de los Dolores. Life-size Dolores santos, intended for processions, will normally have a fabric costume and a crown.

Usually, though not always, the mother's sorrow is expressed in an anguished or weeping face, sometimes streaked with realistic tears. Because of the narrative situation she always stands erect and never has a child in arms. Only a few examples put a white cloth in her left hand, as in the second picture at right. In one case that I know of, the cloth is red.

More of portraits of the Virgin Mary

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University



A Sorrowful Mother in the Hermitage, Melide, Spain, with a sword in the heart. (See the description page)

An outdoor shrine in Taufers im Münstertal, Italy, with seven swords in the heart. (See the description page)

A Sorrowful Mother in Ejutla, Mexico, with a pinned heart. (See the description page)


  • A wall painting of Our Lady of Sorrows with Jesus and St. John the Evangelist.
  • A statue in the Museo d'Arte Sacra, San Leo, Italy.
  • A statue placed before a painting of the Crucifixion in Munich.
  • A Spanish painting with Mary in contemporary dress.
  • Morlete Ruiz's painting adds the instruments of Christ's passion.
  • A 19th-century cuadro from New Mexico.