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Why is Jesus depicted with his heart outside his body?


<font size="5">St. Margaret Mary Alacoque</font>

Philip Kosloski - published on 06/19/20

Jesus wants to give us his heart, that our heart might experience the flames of his love.

One of the most popular artistic expressions of Jesus in the past 200 years shows Jesus with his heart exposed and, in some cases, holding his heart in his hands.

Why is that?

First of all, the image of the heart outside the body recalls the opening of Jesus’ side on the cross. The Directory on Popular Pietyexplains that the Church Fathers “invited the faithful to penetrate the mysteries of Christ by contemplating the wound opened in his side. Augustine writes: ‘Access is possible: Christ is the door. It was opened for you when his side was opened by the lance. Remember what flowed out from his side: thus, choose where you want to enter Christ. From the side of Christ as he hung dying upon the Cross there flowed out blood and water, when it was pierced by a lance. Your purification is in that water, your redemption is in that blood.'”

Many spiritual gifts were given to us through that opening, giving us access to the Heart of Jesus.

This is echoed in a reflection found in the 19th-century book Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Let us go, my brethren, let us enter this loving Heart, never again to depart from It. My God, he continues, if so great consolation be felt at the mere remembrance of Thy Sacred Heart, what will it be to love it with tenderness, to enter therein and dwell there continually? Draw me entirely into this holy Heart, Oh my loving Jesus, open to me this Heart which has so many attractions for me. But what! Does not Thy opened side offer me a place of entrance, and the very wound of this Sacred Heart, does it not invite me to enter therein?

Union of hearts

Secondly, this depiction recalls Jesus’ desire to be united to us, specifically to our heart. In the 12th century, St. Lutgardis of Aywières started to receive visions of Jesus and his pierced heart. In one of her visions she experienced an “exchange of hearts,” where Jesus asked her: “What, then, do you want?” She said, “I want Thy Heart.” In response, Jesus said, “You want My Heart? Well, I too want your heart.” Lutgardis then proclaimed: “Take it, dear Lord. But take it in such a way that the love of Your Heart may be so mingled and united with my own heart that I may possess my heart in Thee, and that it may always remain there secure in Your protection.”

Infinite love

Third, but not least, the image of Jesus’ heart outside his body symbolizes the fact that his love for us is infinite and can not be bound by any barrier.

Pope Pius XII recalled this symbolism in his encyclical on Devotion to the Sacred Heart.

[Jesus’] Heart, more than all the other members of His body, is the natural sign and symbol of His boundless love for the human race. “There is in the Sacred Heart,” as Our predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, pointed out, “the symbol and express image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return.”

Artistic depictions of Jesus with his heart open to us can lead to numerous meditations that lead us deeper in relationship with Christ. It is a beautiful image, one with many layers of symbolism.


Read more:
The unique symbolism of the Sacred Heart


Read more:
The symbolism behind Mary’s Immaculate Heart

ArtDevotions and Feasts
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