Fragments articles Statues of the Sacred Heart

English translation of fragments of

‘H. Hartbeelden zonder hart’

by Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos


Statues of the Sacred Heart without a Heart (fragments)



In the ‘Maasbode’ of Tuesday 11 January (evening paper, third page), His Revd Father D. Cox from Ginneken dedicated an article to the question, if the statues, which he calls Statues of the Sacred Heart without a Heart, are permissible, where it concerns the placing of a Sacred Heart statue, which in recent years has occurred in so many locations and in prospective others is still in preparation.

It appears to me, that in this article a number of points are overlooked which, in responding to this question, should not be lost sight of and I therefore venture to make some observations, which perhaps will not mean that various readers will respond differently to the question but, on the one side, will cause them to give a response after mature consideration, and on the other side will cause them to respect the divergent judgment of others as not ungrounded and not in conflict with church rules.

I do not imagine, in this matter, where not only the intellect but to a high degree feeling and heart also speak, to reduce to one single entity the two opposing opinions, but I consider it in the interest of the right cause, that in paying homage to Christ in public, in the city squares, as much as possible, a worthy, also from the viewpoint of art very highly regarded representation is aspired to.


I am in complete agreement with Father Cox, that the Church will never approve a statue of the Saviour as an image of the Sacred Heart when any attempt is made in that to distract the attention from the actual object of piety, the corporeal Heart of the Lord. This must be presented for veneration.


In my opinion, and very many sculptors share this, sculpture is not in a position to depict what it actually would need to portray, for the benefit of devotion.

Substituting this by the placing of a heart outside the body, even on top of the Saviour’s clothes, it seems to me is not the Church’s intention, which speaks of a Heart in pectore, not supra pectus. It does speak of exterius, yet this must in my opinion be understood as: externally visible in the breast. This can only be represented in painting. Therefore, painting is called upon to furnish us with images of the Sacred Heart demanded by the Church. The danger for misinterpretation means that the Church has not up to now allowed sculpture, freely in accordance with its means, to construct a statue of the Sacred heart. It is, after all, not in a position to depict an element in that, which in itself is not necessary, but because of various deviations until now was thought necessary by the church. I presume, however, that the circumstances since then have changed so much and people so commonly see in the corporeal heart the object of devotion to the Sacred Heart, that nowadays in the statues, which for the sculptor represent as clearly as possible the Sacred Heart, the name of the Sacred Heart statue also in the meaning of the Church, no longer needs to be withheld.

Moreover, the Church will be brought to that, when more and more, the custom gains ground, to place in the city squares a statue of the Sacred heart as King of the people, a task to which sculpture is called.


With the devoutness to the Sacred Heart we must also not forget that it is not venerated as something independent but as something which is united with the personality of the Word made Flesh, in ‘hypostatic union’, as expressed by the theologians. The first object of the representation is therefore Christ. The Church has willed this and for general veneration disapproved a separate representation of the Sacred Heart. In the first place we must therefore have a Christ which corresponds to the demands of art and, in the second place, as far as art allows for this, the Sacred Heart of the Lord must be depicted in that image.

It is very good that we bring our King, Christ, to the public squares of the cities, but in that it is our duty to keep our eye on the exaltedness of the figure, and it is tragic enough that already various so-called monuments in honour of the Sacred Heart have been erected which, except for the name, show nothing of the monumental. To give a complete representation of the Sacred Heart in the outer world, one can also resort to a tiled picture, to a mosaic, but when one opts for sculpture, then one needs to take into account the, in many respects sparse means associated with this, but which austerity – so art history teaches – has been able to express miraculously much, and also, in my opinion, is capable of giving a sufficiently clear and in ways which lead to no misunderstanding, representation of the Sacred Heart, although in a representation of the person of Christ himself, this cannot at the same time be in a sensory observable way.

The emphasis does not lie in the sensory observable, but in the corporeality of the heart. I think that in many representations this is brought to the fore very badly. The majority of statutes shows a stylistic heart on top of the clothes, whilst the heart which we venerate, as expressed by Mgr. Dr. Mannens in his theology has to be a ‘pars corporis’. It must be a part of the body, which comes to the fore in the breast. It is much too often interpreted as an emblem, as a symbol of the actual heart, which is not made visible. Above such representations, which comply with the letter of the decree, yet are certainly not inspired by the spirit of it, I give preference to images which do not comply with the letter but in themselves conform as much as possible to the spirit. Finally, I still think that I need to direct the attention to a very important matter. Although one could say that the statues in which the Sacred Heart is not visible, are not in the strictest sense these days called by the church Sacred Heart statues, such statues are thereby not in the least condemned, even in many respects they might be called very beautiful and worthy of recommendation, and it may be preferable to erect such statues of Christ, instead of so-called statues of the Sacred Heart which do not meet the high demands which the representation of Christ demands of art.


Let us in conclusion, in order to prevent any misunderstanding, summarise in some statements what has been said here.

  • The object of the Sacred Heart devotion is the corporeal Heart of the Lord as an image of the Saviour’s Love.
  • This Heart must be considered as a part of the Body of the Lord, united with that in one person and therefore the Church desires its depiction, connected with the rest of the rest of the Body.
  • The revelations of Saint Margaretha Maria Alacoque depict the corporeal Heart of the Lord itself in the breast of the Lord as in a sea of fire and light, radiant and sparkling, emerging like the sun.
  • Only painting is sufficiently capable of depicting this.
  • With regard to the representation of the Sacred Heart, one must therefore demand from painting as much as possible and let the above stated revelations be the object of the representation.
  • Except for painting, also the other arts, literature, music and not least sculpture, must bring honour and homage and endeavour to depict the revelation of the Sacred Heart, whilst nevertheless preserving the specific character of each [art form] and by means of the particular representational modes of each.
  • Only the good representations in painting can be called both complete and worthy representations of the Sacred Heart. Sculpture can give worthy but incomplete representations of the Sacred Heart. Not, however, both worthy and complete. On account of the incompleteness of representation, no indulgences can be earned through visits to these sculptures in a church, prayer-chapel or altar.
  • The most beautiful and greatest statues of the Sacred Heart responding to the demands of art and intellect, and not opposed to the precepts of the Church, provided these are interpreted in the above stated sense, are those in which stance, gesture, in one word, the complete design endeavour to point to the corporeal Heart of the Lord itself. In this way, no ideal and also no complete representation of the Sacred Heart is given, yet by sculpture is given the most sublime of its capacities to give a fitting representation of the revelation of the Sacred Heart.
  • Where in the present time the risk of misunderstanding might be considered impossible, it is no longer in contradiction with the wishes of the Church that people give the name of the Sacred Heart to such sculptures, although the emphasis should remain on the fact that they are incomplete representations, and for complete representations one should resort to painting.


If one desires an expressive representation of the Sacred Heart, so that this is visible in or on the Saviour’s breast, then one keeps in mind not only the letter of the recommendations concerned, but one endeavours to find a solution which at least squares with the spirit of these. In the interest of this matter, precisely where the danger for a wrong solution to this difficulty is so great, I intend and for the best, although it might have the appearance of a weakening of my argument, to also give an answer to the question which form might be regarded to be in agreement with the letter and the spirit of the Church and the least in strife with the demands which art poses.

I have already said that an image of the Sacred Heart as an ornament on the clothing is to be rejected. Also, the heart should not give the impression that it is applied separately to the image in a garland or halo and could be unscrewed from the image. As much as possible the heart must form a whole with the image. Just on those grounds already, I consider the application of a golden heart improper. The Heart must, if one wishes to visibly depict it, grow out of the image, emerge out of it, to constitute a whole with it. For that purpose, it is not necessary that the statue is unclothed, that an incision is made in the robe or that the robe is thrown back in order to allow the heart to be seen. Also, the heart must not be painted but, when made visible in a statute, be tangible. If one desires to visibly depict the heart, then it is enough that it is made sufficiently tangible and thus visible through its expressive forms. From the standpoint of expressive art, it therefore deserves the preference, to clothe the statue and through a thin tunic to allow the lines of the heart with a crown of thorns and above this the lines of a cross, to speak. In this way a good sculptor is able to achieve the effect, to some extent, that people see the heart through the tunic and to some extent express the heart luminously and with rays of light emerging from the heart, without depicting light and beams and without opening the figure. The covering through the robe, no matter how fine, safeguards the unity in the image.

When no specific reasons call for another pose, the one hand should point to the heart, to make this more striking. Under no circumstance should one, as Battoni does, present the statue with the heart in the hand. The heart must reside in the breast. This must however not be implemented in such a way that a cavity is made in the breast, in which the Sacred Heart is placed, something, to which Piet Gerrits allowed himself to be tempted.

Yet where would I end in the event that I wished to comment on all forms which in my opinion deserve disapproval and which with some reserve might be allowed. (…) Let us hope that the discussion over this certainly very topical subject makes many impose somewhat higher demands on the images of the Sacred Heart, both within and outside of the churches, in the houses as well as in the public squares of the city.

I would like to close this reflection with the words which my Holy Friar St. John of the Cross began his works with: If I am to err in something, then it is not my intention to deviate from the sound sense and doctrine of Our Holy Mother the Catholic Church; in that case I surrender myself completely and subject myself not only to her judgment but to that of everyone who, in this regard, is better able to judge.


  1. Translation of fragments from two articles of: Titus Brandsma, ‘H. Hartbeelden onder hart’, in: De Maasbode 15-01-1921 and 02-02-1921. See also comment by Anne-Marie Bos.


Translation: Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos

© Titus Brandsma Instituut 2018