Sacred Texts

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”

This prayer comes from a vision of the Blessed Mother that Saint Catherine Labouré received in 1830. She saw Mary standing on what seemed to be half a globe and holding a golden globe in her hands as if offering it to heaven. On the globe was the word “France,” and our Lady explained that the globe represented the whole world, but especially France. The times were difficult in France, especially for the poor who were unemployed and often refugees from the many wars of the time. France was first to experience many of those troubles which ultimately reached other parts of the world and are even present today. Streaming from rings on Mary's fingers as she held the globe were many rays of light. Mary explained that the rays symbolize the graces she obtains for those who ask for them. However, some of the gems on the rings were dark, and Mary explained that the rays and graces were available but did not come because no one had asked for them. The vision then changed to show our Lady standing on a globe with her arms now outstretched and with the dazzling rays of light still streaming from her fingers. Framing the figure was an inscription: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.“








“A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”

This vision turned and showed the design of the reverse side of the medal. Twelve stars encircled a large "M" from which arose a cross. Below are two hearts with flames arising from them. Thorns encircle one heart and a sword pierces the other. Mary instructed Catherine to make these images into a medal that would be worn around the neck; and those who wore it would receive great graces. This devotion spread quickly and became known as the Miraculous Medal, because grace and health, peace and prosperity, followed in its wake. The twelve stars on the reverse side of the medal also connect to the scripture passage from Revelation 12 on the left-most panel: “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”






Sacred Images









Francesco Mancini (1732), Church of Saint Teresa in Perugia, Italy

In this painting we see Mary as a young child with her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim. Although Saint Anne and Saint Joachim are not found in the bible, they are mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James, as well as in other Christian documents from the first centuries of the Church. While devotions to St. Anne and Joachim were initially popular in the Eastern Greek Church, the devotion spread to the Western Church in Europe. Around the 14th century, it became common in the West to depict Saint Anne teaching Mary to read, as we see here. This was a particularly popular subject at this time due to the recent invention of the printing press and an exponential increase in widespread literacy. Mary was seen as the model for all people, so naturally, it was assumed that she would have been well versed in Scripture. Similarly, we also see works of art with St. Anne, Mary, and Jesus reading; Mary is often depicted with a prayer book in Annunciation artwork; and there are also many paintings of Mary teaching Jesus to read. Saint Joachim stands above them, completing the family. Saint Joachim is said to have been blessed by God with wealth, and accordingly, the family is depicted in a rather luxurious abode. Despite their blessing of wealth, it took many years for Anne and Joachim to conceive. When they finally did give birth to Mary, in thanksgiving, they brought her to the temple to consecrate her to God. Fittingly, the dome of the temple is visible in the background. Another common subject for Marian art is her Presentation to the Temple, in which she is often depicted as a girl standing or walking with grace and confidence, with her arms outstretched in humility as we see here. Her head is encircled with the twelve stars from Revelation 12, and there is a blue ribbon tied around her waist to represent her purity and virginity. Meanwhile, Mary’s gaze is directed upwards, as she is seemingly lost in the beautiful heavenly music of the angels looking fondly down upon the family.



Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1625-1636), Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Although it currently resides in a museum, this painting was originally commissioned for the oratory (private chapel) of Queen Elizabeth of Bourbon, the queen consort to Philip IV of Spain. The eye is immediately drawn to the harmonious symmetry and inverted triangle of the composition. The Holy Spirit is portrayed as a dove, and the gentle curve of the wings slightly softens the triangle into a heart, as a symbol of reverence and piety. Accordingly, Mary reflects this with her own hand pointing toward her heart in humility. The Holy Spirit also shines down a beam of light directly upon Mary, which could also reference the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that occurred in the Annunciation and Mary’s role in the Incarnation. Above her, all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are depicted at the same level, symbolizing their equality and unity. Christ the Son and God the Father are both clothed in a rich violet color that in Eastern Christian art is symbolic of royalty. Mary also wears the color of royalty, which is complemented by the blue draping that symbolizes her purity. Christ the Son and God the Father hold a wreath of roses above her head as they crown her Queen of Heaven, which also references the prayer for the Rosary, which had already been a popular and powerful devotion in Spain for more than a century at the time this work was created.


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