The Sacred Heart Window

In this window, we see St. Margaret Mary Alacoque gazing at a vision of Jesus, who radiates golden light and gestures toward his sacred heart.  In the foreground, the saint’s simple cloak trails on a red tiled floor.  A graceful blue pitcher holds a lily.  The lines of the saint’s grey habit draw the eye to her face, a delicate profile gazing upward in quiet gladness, just beneath Jesus’ outstretched hand.  Jesus’ feet are bare, and are juxtaposed with her hands, almost touching, but not quite.  Jesus seems to be standing on an altar, flanked by two tall candles.  

His clothes are richly embroidered with cross and floral patterns, both his white robe and his bright red cloak, cascading in folds from the crook of his arm.  The lines of the folds, and of the rays of light that emanate from him, point toward the image of his heart, glowing and encircled by thorns.  

His face has the coloring and features of a central European, not historically accurate, but reflecting the context of the early 20th century Munich artists who created the glass.  He bends his head toward Margaret, his eyes lowered, his expression faintly sad.  Behind a blue curtain in the background, past two Corinthian columns and Romanesque archways, we catch a glimpse of trees and open sky, adding depth and a sense of space to the composition, the natural light of day contrasting with the unearthly light issuing from Jesus.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque lived in France in the 1600’s.  According to legend, she became very sick as a young teen, but recovered after promising to Mary, our blessed Mother, that she would enter religious life.  As a religious sister, she experienced ecstatic visions of Jesus crucified appearing and speaking to her, encouraging devotion to his Sacred Heart.  

This devotion, which had already been around for several centuries, spread and became even more popular, observed on first Fridays and especially on the Friday after Corpus Christi.  Pope Pius VI defended the devotion against critics in the statement “Auctōrem fideī” in 1794.  

St. Margaret Mary was canonized — officially recognized as a saint — in 1920, around the time our windows were crafted.  St. Margaret’s visions included 12 promises from Jesus, including this one: “I will bless every place where an image of my heart is exposed and honored.”

This window dwells in the sanctuary, facing southwest, to the left of the altars.  The position represents the place of the feast of the Sacred Heart in the liturgical year, as well as our place as believers in salvation history.  The large windows in the nave tell a story, beginning with the Triune God in eternity, the south transept window, continuing with the Wedding of Mary and Joseph, and continuing counterclockwise around the building with the infancy narratives, the Christmas stories which we read during Advent and the Christmas season.  Then come scenes of Jesus as a youth and an adult, working miracles and teaching, which we focus on during ordinary time.  The story culminates with Eastertide and the feast of the Ascension in late Spring.  These windows outline the whole mystery of Christ, accompanied by his teachings in the roundels at the top, which portray parables, or moral stories, from the Gospels. Continuing to follow this counterclockwise circuit of the building, the Melchizedek window comes next, associated with the feast of Corpus Christi.  Then comes our window of the Sacred Heart, just as the feast of the Sacred Heart follows Corpus Christi in late Spring or early Summer.  The exact dates of both feasts depend on the Easter season, which in turn depends on the cycles of the sun and moon, and changes each year.  So we see how the building itself is a kind of calendar, tracing the seasons and the sacred year.  Although St. Margaret Mary is a specific person, she could be viewed as symbolizing all of us.  The great events of the Paschal mystery are in our past, but the story continues, and we are part of it, as we each encounter Jesus personally and strive to follow his teachings in our everyday lives.  

St. Bonaventure, writing in the 1200’s, meditated on the meaning of the Sacred Heart in his treatise, “The Mystical Vine.”  He describes Jesus’ heart as a temple, a holy of holies, which we, through prayer and grace, can enter, so that our heart becomes one with the heart of Christ in an intimate union: “To this temple, to this holy of holies, to this ark of the covenant, I will come to adore and to praise the Lord’s name, saying with David, ‘I have found my heart, that I may pray this prayer to thee.’ (2 Kings 7:27). But the heart I have found is the heart of my King and Lord, of my Brother and Friend, the most loving Jesus; then shall I not pray?  Yes, I will pray, for I say without hesitation that His heart is also mine…Oh what a blessed lot is mine to have one heart with Jesus!  But no marvel, this, since ‘the multitude of believers were of one heart.’ (Acts 4:32). Having found this heart, both yours and mine…I will pray to You, my God…draw my whole being within your heart…that I may come to You,…and be made worthy of living in Your heart all the days of my life (Ps 50), both knowing and doing Your will.” (III.4, Bougerol translation, 1960, p.154)

There is much more that could be said about the imagery in this window and about the topic of the Sacred Heart.  I welcome feedback and more thoughts!  Please post, or reach us through the contact form at SaintJosephHammondHeritage.com.

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