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Hearts in Sacred Art: Symbols of Devotion

Love, devotion, fervor – these are some of the things that the imagery of the heart brings to mind. Throughout sacred art, hearts serve as powerful symbols and are associated with devotions to Jesus and the Blessed Mother. In today’s post, we invite you to explore the places where you can find hearts portrayed in the art of the Basilica and discover what they symbolize.

Immaculate Heart Chapel The Immaculate Heart of Mary Medallion

The devotion to the Immaculate Heart is traditionally associated with imagery representing Mary’s virtues, which you can find honored in the Basilica in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel. Most notable among these is the heart of Mary pierced by a sword, which is depicted in a hand-carved wooden medallion. Surrounded by eight angels carved into the marble of the apse, Mary holds the Christ Child and touches her Immaculate Heart, inviting the visitor to contemplate her example of love amidst sorrow.

The symbolism of the sword-pierced heart originates from Simeon’s prophetic words to the Blessed Mother: “And you a sword will pierce,” in Luke 2:35.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Mosaic The Immaculate Heart of Mary Mosaic

This chapel also features a mosaic depiction of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, portraying Pope Pius XII. As he kneels before Mary, she stands upon a crescent moon, surrounded by twinkling stars. Veiled in white, she opens her arms to show the visitor her heart, surrounded by beams of light. Inscribed along the top of the mosaic is the following quote from Pope Pius XII:

“We consecrate ourselves forever to your Immaculate Heart.”

Matrimony Rondel The Matrimony Rondel

Gracing the east chancel bay of the Great Upper Church is a rondel symbolizing the sacrament of marriage. The simple but elegant design features interlocking hearts surrounded in flames above a cross haloed in beams of light.

Mary Queen of All Hearts mosaic The Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel Mosaic

Propagated by St. Louis de Montfort, the devotion to Mary, Queen of All Hearts invites the faithful to strive to imitate the Blessed Mother’s heart of love for the Savior. This devotion is honored in the Basilica in the Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel in mosaic and in a stained-glass window. The mosaic depiction of the heart consists of a simple red-tile outline framed in gold. It appears along with nine other symbols of the Blessed Virgin used in the writings of de Montfort: the lily; the mystical rose; “M” over an inverted “V”; the crescent moon; the royal crown; the anchor and rope; the Star of the Sea; the crossed scepters; and a joined “M” and “R.”

Mary Queen of All Hearts chapel windowThe Mary Queen of All Hearts Window

Featuring vivid blues, reds, and yellows, the Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel window depicts a flaming heart, surrounded by the text:

“My Queen, set me as a seal on your heart
A Blazing fire is love.”  

Sacred Heart of Jesus The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Originating in the 1670s, the devotion to Jesus’s sacred heart aims to focus our hearts on receiving and returning Christ’s love with gratitude — with all of our heart, soul, and strength — that He may be glorified. The sacred heart of Jesus includes a cross surrounded by flames, and is encircled by a crown of thorns. In the Basilica, the sacred heart is portrayed in marble on the altar frontal in the Miraculous Medal Chapel, alongside the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Augustinian Seal of the Burning Heart

Augustinian Seal The Basilica’s Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel features the Augustinian seal of the burning heart both in the altar and in the base of a statue of the Blessed Mother. Featuring a flaming heart with an arrow over an open book, the emblem holds significance relating to the values of the Augustinians. According to the Augustinian Order:

“The emblem of the Order of Saint Augustine is a flaming heart pierced by an arrow on the background of an open book. The open book suggests a dedication to a search for knowledge, both divine and earthly. In the emblem of the Order, [the flaming heart] reminds Augustine’s followers that they must practice and preach charity toward God and neighbor. The arrow piercing the heart and the book represents the Spirit of God piercing our minds and hearts and calling us to a continual growth of faith, hope and love in our lives.”

Augustinian Seal
While the iteration of the seal inscribed at the base of the statue is more modern and simple, the Augustinian seal in the altar frontal shows a more traditional burning heart along with the mitre and the crosier of St. Augustine. Framing the seal is the command “Take and Read,” in both English and Latin (“Tolle et Lege”), hearkening back to the decisive moment when Augustine first picked up a Bible at the prompting of a child.


The Order’s Emblem,” the Augustinians of the Province of Australasia.

Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

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