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Secret Symbols: The Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ

One secret symbol that is one of the most well-known of Catholic symbols is the sacred heart. This ancient symbol is often depicted as a flaming, bleeding heart that is pierced by a lance-wound and surrounded by a crown of thorns, which is evocative of the crucifixion of Jesus. In some cases, the sacred heart is super-imposed on the body of Jesus Christ, who is portrayed as pointing to the heart.

The Origins of the Symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ

The symbol of the sacred heart (also known as the sacré-coeur) originated in France at the end of the seventeenth century, when a nun named Marguerite Marie Alacoque made public her mystical visions of Jesus. In these visions, Marguerite Marie reported that Jesus instructed her to devote herself, and to encourage the French nation, to devote itself to the veneration of his heart.

Sister Marguerite Marie described the heart as a symbolic center of communication between humans and the divine. She described the heart as being entwined with thorns and flames as featuring a cross at the top. This vision was similar to earlier visions—for example, those experienced by St. Gertrude—and it was also congruent with contemporary alchemical imagery common during the seventeenth century.

The Development of the Sacred Heart Symbol

A few decades following Marguerite Marie’s death, the bishop of Marseille (Monseigneur de Belsunce) consecrated his diocese to the Sacred Heart in an effort to spare the region from a plague. After the region’s inhabitants were spared from the plague, the symbol of the sacred heart become linked with acts of piety, charity as well as a talisman against plague.

In addition, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the symbol of the sacred heart appeared on the amulets worn by Carlist military forces in Spain. These individuals sought the establishment of a separate line of the Bourbon family on the Spanish throne. It was worn in order to protect oneself against firearms encountered during battle.

The Vatican established the Feast of the Sacred Heart as a holy day on the Roman Catholic calendar during the nineteenth century, and it is celebrated 19 days after the Pentecost.

Today, the sacred heart symbol continues to be popular in Christian art and is representative of one’s devotion to Jesus’ physical heart, as well as one’s divine love for humanity.


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