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the meaning of the icon

In the Eastern world, religious art is seen as an extension of God’s presence in creation. Icons are much more than beautiful images: they’re meant to help us connect directly with God.

The artist who writes the icon strives to illuminate the viewer’s soul with divine truth.

Below is a photo of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help—the most widely known icon in the world.

This sacred image has special meaning for the Redemptorists, who were asked by Pope Pius IX to “make her known throughout the world.”

Each element of the icon has a specific meaning.

Elements of the image

  • Mary’s eyes, filled with compassion and love, are directed toward us.
  • Our Lady is clothed in the colors of virgins (red) and of mothers (blue). These are also royal colors.
  • Jesus, depicted as a young boy, wears the colors of a king.
  • The star on Mary’s veil reminds us that she is the dawn announcing the coming of Christ.
  • Our Lady’s hands hold her Son securely, and her right hand directs our gaze to Him.
  • The Christ Child grasps his mother’s hand as though he is frightened by what he sees.
  • In His hurry to reach his mother, Jesus has almost lost one of his sandals. He became human, like us, in all things but sin.
  • On Our Lady’s left and right we see the reasons for the child’s fear. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding a cross and four nails. On the left is the Archangel Michael, holding a lance, a pole with a sponge, and a vessel of vinegar. This vision of the instruments of the crucifixion has driven the young Jesus to his mother’s protective embrace.
  • Yet Our Lady’s gaze is fixed on us, her children on earth. She is our source of constant comfort and hope.



Watch the latest reflection on Our Mother of Perpetual Help from the perpetual novena at Mission Church in Boston.

Click the player below to listen to a hymn to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

O Mother of Perpetual Help

Visit our gift shop

Click to purchase an explanation of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mass cards, novena booklets, icon prints, medals, and other devotional items.

Pray with the icon

The following is adapted from “Novena Meditations to Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” compiled by David Werthmann, Liguori Publications, 2004. To order a copy of the booklet, visit www.liguori.org.