What are the images on the Miraculous Medal, and what do they mean?

We’re often asked this question. Every image on the front and back of the Miraculous Medal has meaning. Their origin is Mary herself, who revealed them in a series of appearances to St. Catherine Labouré.

On the front of the medal, you’ll see Mary with rays coming from her fingertips. Mary explained to St. Catherine that the rays symbolize graces given to everyone who asks for them. Grace is best understood as the gift of God’s very self—his own eternal life—given to us freely. Mary was filled with God’s grace, as the angel Gabriel told her in his greeting. But Mary wants us to know that God’s grace is available to us too. Because God is love, grace is a gift of God’s love that strengthens us to live the life God has planned for us. We just have to ask for it.

Mary also appears to be standing on a globe. Catherine understood that the globe represented her French homeland, and the whole world, too. The date, 1830, commemorates the year in which Mary appeared to St. Catherine. When we see Mary with her arms outstretched over the world, we remember that as Mary stood at the foot of the cross, Jesus said to the apostle John, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). We are reminded that Jesus has given us everything, even his own mother. We are all   Mary’s children. She watches over the whole world with a mother’s love and care. We can ask God every day—through our own mother Mary—to give us his gift of grace.

Around the edge of the medal, you’ll see an inscription. This is the prayer of the Miraculous Medal, which is from the vision of Mary that St. Catherine witnessed:

Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

We can speak these words to Mary—friend to friend, child to mother—with full confidence that she takes our prayers to her son Jesus, praying for us as only a mother can.

The Cross & Bar

Turn your Miraculous Medal over and you’ll see more images that are full of meaning. The cross, of course, represents Jesus. The letter M stands for Mary. But what is that bar going through the letter? Glad you asked. The bar represents the earth. Mary stands between earth and heaven, always guiding us toward Jesus.

Below the cross, you’ll see two hearts with flames around them. They represent the loving hearts of Jesus and Mary. A crown of thorns encircles Jesus’ heart, while Mary’s heart is pierced by a sword, calling to mind the prophecy spoken by Simeon to Mary: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce...” (Luke 2:34-35).

The cross is encircled by twelve stars. The number twelve carries deep meaning throughout the Bible. Jesus chose twelve apostles to spread the gospel and build his church, “to the ends of the earth.” You can draw an even deeper connection when you recall the vision from the Book of Revelation: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”

What does it all mean for us? One thing is clear. The Miraculous Medal is a beautiful reminder from our Blessed Mother to be open to the ways she draws you closer to Jesus, to your life in him, and to the glorious eternal life of peace and joy he is preparing for you—and for all of us.

May God’s grace be with you today!