The Miraculous Medal owes its origins to the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the chapel of the Rue du Bac, Paris, in 1830. She appeared to Catherine Labourn, showing the young nun and future saint the design of a medal that serves as a mini-catechism of the Church’s teaching on Our Lady.
In a vision, Mary stood on a globe with brilliant light streaming from her jeweled fingers. “Behold the symbol of graces shed upon those who ask for them,” she said, representing herself as Mediatrix of All Graces. Surrounding her a banner read, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you,” symbolizing her Immaculate Conception. The vision reversed, showing the letter ‘M’ entwined with a cross above the Sacred Hearts. This image represents Mary as Coredemptrix, a unique participator in Jesus’ saving act of redemption.
The Virgin Mary told St. Catherine to have a medal struck with this image, and that those who wore the medal and said the prayer would receive graces and special protection from her. It took two years before the medal was struck as Our Lady had requested. The medal was originally called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception” – however, due to the many answered prayers, conversions and cures, it became known as the “Miraculous Medal.” Around ten million medals were made and sold within the first five years of making it available.
Additional millions of medals have been distributed and untold graces given “to those who wear it around the neck” as the Virgin promised to St. Catherine. Hearing of the miraculous conversion of the agnostic Alphonse Ratisbonne through the medal, St. Maximilian made wearing it and giving it away an integral part of his movement. He called the Miraculous Medal “a ‘bullet’ with which the faithful soldier hits the enemy, that is evil, and thus rescues souls.”
Featured image is a detail of the first apparition of the Miraculous Medal. This mosaic found in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Philadelphia, PA