On November 27, 1830, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared in a vision to Catherine Laboure, a novice in the Sisters of Charity convent in Paris, France. Our Lady manifested the pattern of a medal to Catherine. Mary promised that “All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for those who wear it with confidence.”
In 1832, the first medals were made and distributed in Paris with the approval of the Church. The medal quickly became known as the “Miraculous Medal” because of the many miracles of health, peace, blessings, protection, and conversion that were worked through the medal. The medal is a sacramental and has no power; however, God acts through the medal just as He worked through Moses’ rod for the Israelite victory (Ex. 14:15-31), and handkerchiefs touched to Paul for healings (Acts 19:11-12).
The front side of the medal is the joyful side. Mary stands on the globe as the Queen and Mother of all. Her feet crush the serpent, to show that Satan is helpless before her (Gen. 3:15). As God’s chosen instrument, her hands are open, spreading the graces that Christ won for us. Etched around the rim is the prayer “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
The back of the medal is the sorrowful side because it shows the sufferings of Jesus and Mary. The Cross is on top of the M, showing that Christ is the Savior of all, including Mary. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are pictured; Jesus’ heart has a crown of thorns, representing the sufferings He underwent to free us from sin and to show His infinite love for each person. Mary’s heart is pierced by a sword of sorrow (Lk. 2:35) as she joined in Christ’s suffering for love of us, even standing at the foot of the cross. The twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the Apostles, or perhaps the stars in St. John’s vision, in which “a great sign appeared in Heaven, a woman clothed with sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1).