Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre

Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre

Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Jesus showed his love for us by sacrificing his life, yet his love is often not appreciated. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is meant to help us focus on returning his love with gratitude and giving him glory with our whole heart, soul, and strength. The Sacred Heart is a symbol of Jesus's love for humanity. The image of the Sacred Heart often shows a wounded heart with a crown of thorns and light radiating from it.

Apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. A painting in Charles Borromeo Church
Apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. A painting in Charles Borromeo Church, Charlesbourg

The devotion was popularized by medieval mystics since the 11th century. The devotion to the Sacred Heart grew in France following the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun in France, from 1673 to 1675. Jesus revealed to her his desire to be honored through the symbol of his heart. He asked for the faithful to confess their wrongdoings, receive Communion frequently, and observe the Holy Hour. Jesus also made 12 promises to those who honor his Sacred Heart:

  1. He will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
  2. He will establish peace in their homes.
  3. He will comfort them in all their afflictions.
  4. He will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
  5. He will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners will find in His Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
  9. He will bless every place in which an image of His Heart is exposed and honored.
  10. He will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in His Heart.
  12. In the excessive mercy of His Heart that His all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in His disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. His divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

In 1856, Pope Pius IX added the feast of the Sacred Heart to the Roman Catholic Church's calendar. Its feast falls on the Friday of the third week after Pentecost.

Expiatory Church

The Sacred Heart Basilica is an expiatory church—built to make amends for the sins of the French people. Bishop Felix Fournier of Nantes proposed the church's construction in 1870, in response to the moral decline in France after the French Revolution. He viewed France's defeat by the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan in 1870 as a divine punishment for this decline.

Montmartre viewed from Paris skyline France
Montmartre and its surroundings

It took 40 years to build the Sacred Heart Basilica, which was consecrated in 1919. It is now the second most-visited tourist destination in the city after the Eiffel Tower. The church has maintained perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist since 1885.

The Sacred Heart Basilica stands tall at Montmartre, the highest point in Paris, offering panoramic views of the city. Montmartre means hill of the martyrs, where St. Denis of Paris was beheaded by the Romans around AD 250. The hill also witnessed the founding of the Society of Jesus in 1534. The church's façade is graced with a statue of the Sacred Heart and its arches hold the equestrian statues of St. Joan of Arc on the right and St. Louis IX on the left.

Façade Montmartre Paris France
Façade of Montmartre

Apse Mosaic

The main artwork in the basilica is a big mosaic in the apse, called “The Triumph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” It was made by Luc-Olivier Merson and is one of the largest mosaics in the world. Jesus stands with open arms, offering his heart, with Mary and St. Michael beside him. St. Michael is the protector of France and the Church. St. Joan of Arc kneels below him and and a personification of France presents a crown to Jesus. Pope Leo XIII offers Christ a globe, which represents the world.

Triumph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Montmartre Paris France
Triumph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. © Peter Potrowl, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

On the right side of Christ in a mosaic is a scene called "The Homage of France to the Sacred Heart," which shows a group of popes and cardinals presenting a model of the basilica to Christ. On his left is "The Homage of the Catholic Church to the Sacred Heart," which shows people from the five continents dressed in costumes paying homage to the Sacred Heart. At the bottom of the mosaic is a Latin inscription indicating that the basilica is a gift from France, dedicated "to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, France fervent, penitent and grateful." The word "grateful" was added after World War I.