The Miraculous Holy Medal is worn almost as much by Catholics as the crucifix, but what you may not know is the Blessed Virgin Mary herself designed the medal and requested its worldwide distribution. As a collector of antique religious medals, crosses and crucifixes, as well as a jewelry designer, I became fascinated by its origin. As I began collecting medals from all over the world, I soon discovered that the Miraculous Medal design was singularly the most frequently found medal. The medal is often in different shapes, in gold or silver, but the front and back design is always the same. Custom Medal
The story began at night on July 18, 1830 in Paris. A young novice named Catherine Leboure was sleeping in her convent called the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity. Catherine was barely twenty-four years old and as she was sleeping was woken by a five year old boy. The boy was beautifully dressed in sparkling garments and told Catherine, “Come to the chapel, the Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.” Shocked, but quietly Catherine followed the boy. As she entered the chapel it was glowing and Catherine knelt to pray.
Catherine heard the movement of silk as the beautiful Virgin Mary appeared and sat down in the chair next to her. Her dress was ivory with a blue mantle and a white veil covering her head and draping over her shoulders. Her hands radiated beams of light that was said to be the color of jewels. Catherine knelt in front of her looking into her eyes. When the Virgin Mary spoke she told Catherine that God would like to entrust her with a mission. It will be the cause of much suffering to you, but you will have the grace to bear it. Do not fear. Know that your mission is for the glory of God. She said you will see certain things. Give an account of them. You will be inspired in your prayers. Tell with confidence and simplicity all that you see. Pendants
The Virgin ended the conversation that night by saying, “Come to the foot of the altar. There graces will be poured on all those that ask for them with confidence and fervor.” The Virgin Mary then disappeared. Catherine did not see Mary again until November 27, 1830. This was Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. All the nuns were praying in the chapel, but Catherine was the only one who saw the apparition. During the silent meditation, Catherine heard again the rustling sound of silk. When she looked for the Blessed Virgin, she appeared standing on a globe. She could only see half of the globe. Championship Rings
The Virgin Mary was wearing a white robe of silk. In her hands, she held a smaller globe. Her eyes were raised toward heaven and her face was beautiful and indescribable. Catherine also saw rings on her fingers, covered with jewels, some large and some small. Beautiful rays of light shined from the jewels. When the Blessed Mother spoke she said that the globe represents the entire world and the people of the world. As Catherine gazed at the beauty of the rays of light exuding from Mary she said, “This is a symbol of the graces which I shed on those who ask me.” When Catherine wondered why some of the jewels on Mary were not radiating light like the others, the voice said, “Those jewels, which are in shadow, represent the graces which people forget to ask for the grace.” The apparition changed and Mary was then in a white dress, a blue mantle, and a white veil.
She was standing on the globe and had one foot on the head of a serpent that lay at her feet. The year 1830 was marked at the base of the globe. The Virgin’s hands were pointing downward, and cascade of light rays were falling from her hands onto the globe. An oval then formed around Mary, and on it were written the words in gold, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The voice told Catherine to have a medal struck after this model. Those who wear it will have abundant graces. As the voice faded, the oval turned and Catherine saw what was on the reverse side of the medal. The letter M was surmounted by a bar and a cross. Beneath the M were the hearts of Jesus and Mary. One heart was crowned with thorns, and the other pierced with a sword. Encircling these symbols were twelve stars. Custom Medal
Over the next year Catherine saw this vision six times. She had very little contact with the outside world but she felt called to fulfill this mission. She told her spiritual director, Father John Marie Aladel about the Virgin’s mandate. Her spiritual director did not believe her, just as Mary had predicted. As Catherine persisted with Father Aladel they continued to have many heated disagreements about her mission. At a loss for what to do with Catherine, he requested that she write a detailed report of what had happened in these visions. Father Aladel visited the archbishop of Paris in 1832 and told Catherine’s story. The archbishop had a special devotion to the Virgin Mary and immediately granted permission to create the medal. In June 1832, fifteen hundred copies of the medal then know as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception was created. By 1836 more than two million medals had been produced. Many stories of cures, healings, wonders and deathbed conversions were attributed to these medals. As these happened the medal gradually became known as the Miraculous Medal.
Catherine Laboure never revealed to anyone but her spiritual director that she was the one who received these visions that originated the creation of the Miraculous Medal. Eventually, the apparitions of the Virgin Mary was sanctified and officially recognized by the Church based on the miraculous effects of the medals. Sister Catherine remained at the Sisters of Charity residence in Paris and nursed the sick and tended the chickens at the convent. Her fellow sisters found her to be “cold and apathetic” and were shocked to learn that Catherine, who was quiet and obscure, was entrusted by the Virgin Mary to fulfill God’s mission.