The Sacred Heart of Jesus
A Visual History

For reasons I cannot all together explain, I have been drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for most of my life. There is no question that I have felt a perverse attraction to this dreadful symbol of a pierced bleeding heart circumscribed by sharp thorns, flames shooting from its top, stabbed with a cross. At the same time I have felt a tremendous challenge from this symbol in which Jesus exposes his heart and seems to say, “Here is my heart, I have nothing to hide. Can you say the same?”

In the late 17th century the French Visitandine nun Marguerite-Marie Alacoque reported a series of powerful incantatory visions, during which Jesus showed her his heart. In her autobiography she wrote of the “inexplicable Secrets of the Sacred Heart.” I have never had a vision of the Sacred Heart yet I have at least a partial understanding of what she meant.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a visual symbol. If its “Secrets” could be fully articulated in words it would become a relic; an impotent symbol with feeble power to persuade. This is why at the center of Search for Sacred Heart of Jesus there are 100 illustrations, chosen in the first instance for their visual impact. And this is why it is the central thesis of the book that the meaning of the Sacred Heart resides ultimately within renderings of it that speak “de corde tuo, ad cor tuum,” about your heart, to your heart.

These illustrations range from some of the earliest art picturing the heart of Jesus from the 14th century to 21st-century interpretations. Examples have been selected from a wide range of mediums including paintings; wood, copper, and steel engravings; stained-glass windows; sculptures; watercolors; pastels; mosaics; ceramics; collages; silk screens; photographs; lithographs; and holy cards.

The book includes art from such traditional painters as Pompeo Batoni, Francisco Bayeu, Guiodoccio Cozzarelli, Lucas Cranach, Maurice Denis, Corrado Giaguinto, Odilon Redon, and James Tissot as well as contemporary visionary and outsider artists like Salvador Dali, Henry Darger, Daniel Martin Diaz, Alex Grey, Jeff Koons, Norbert Kox, Elizabeth McGrath, and Jacques Prévert.

Yet there is much to be said about the Sacred Heart of Jesus from its earliest reference in the Gospels to modern structural analysis. Accompanying each piece of Sacred Heart art will be commentary on topics as far ranging as Medieval nuns, 17th-century printing techniques, revolutionary politics, deconstructing religious visions, and Bob Dylan, all with a hook that connects them to Jesus’ heart.

The book also features the first-ever Sacred Heart of Jesus chronology, lists of every Sacred Heart church and school in the U.S. and Canada, and an extensive bibliography which includes every book on record about the Sacred Heart.

The book is offered as one more Sacred Heart of Jesus image, multi-faceted yet incomplete, bold yet hesitant. Hopefully the images reproduced in this book, individually and then collectively, will inspire readers, or should I say viewers, to contemplate their willingness to reveal their own hearts without guile and to honor Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. To me this image of a bloody wounded heart speaks wordlessly of Jesus’ passion, his chal­lenge, his mercy, and the valley of tears through which we all must pass.

Behold the Sacred Heart of Jesus!