Why a Heart?
The head is useless without the heart
We have lots of organs in our body, so why should the heart, rather than the brain, eye, hand, or other part of the body, be the symbol that has become synonymous with 'love'?
The heart is quite a remarkable organ. Each beat is triggered by a surge of calcium ions that causes millions of overlapping proteins (actin and myosin) in each heart cell to pull against each other and contract. How's that for sustainable renewable energy!
When we run, when we are excited, our heart beats faster; when we sleep, our heart beats slower; and when we die, it doesn't beat at all. So it must have been understood for a long time that the heart has an important correlation with life - a significant, if not the most significant, part of our body. Thrust a spear into somebody's abdomen and they survive for a while. Pierce their heart and they die immediately. It doesn't take much extension of the imagination to associate this organ with deeper aspects of life, such as the soul and emotions. The deepest emotion, love, is therefore associated with the most significant organ, the heart.
Interestingly (well OK, maybe not so interesting) there are two Chinese and Japanese characters for 'love': (1) and (2). You will notice both characters include the same element, and that character happens to mean 'heart' (3).
"I'll put my heart into it" means I'll give it my utmost attention and effort. We use the word heart as a metaphor for several things: courage, effort, interest etc., but above all these, the heart means love. "I give my heart to you. Open your heart for me." means I love you and want you to accept it.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the heart is used in many church logos, including that of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), shown on the right with a crown.
The Heart Cross represents and reminds us of the love of Jesus. And this is lovable; we can devote ourselves to the love shown by God,
So the heart symbol can represent the love from God, or the love we give to God, which in turn means the love we give to other people. In this context it is often referred to as the Sacred Heart.
When an image of a heart is pierced by a sword, this depicts the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Sometimes the image shows seven swords piercing the heart, in homage to the seven dolors of Mary.
The sword-piercing is in reference to Simeon's prophecy when Mary presented Jesus at the temple. (See Luke 2:25-35)
A string of roses or lilies are often wrapped around the heart.
Why the ♥ shape?
So much for the organ and its use to represent love. But what about its easily-recognisable but biologically unsound shape?
It is often coloured bright red to symbolise life and vitality, but there's no anatomical accuracy in the symbol and not much similarity between the symbolism and the physical organ. Nevertheless, they do share one fundamental attribute: neither the physical heart nor the spiritual heart can function without a host.
The heart, in a physical sense or spiritual sense, is inseparably connected with the physical or spiritual life. It is of no use to say that one loves Jesus unless we back this up with loving action in our daily lives. Conversely, any religious activities we do should not come from a sense of obligation or duty; they should be done with love (yes, from our hearts). This, after all, is what the Bible instructs (see Eph. 2:8-10).
Here's one idea of where the shape originates:
In the ancient Greek city of Cyrene (in Libya) they grew a herb called silphium. Silphium was used as a seasoning in cooking and also a herbal medicine for cough, fever and other maladies. It was so important to Cyrene's economy that the plant was inscribed on coins of that period. Although the plant is now extinct, the surviving coins give us a good idea of what silphium looked like.1
The most prized use of the herb was its contraceptive properties, both in preventing and aborting pregnancies. This plant is attributed to the Greek god Apollo (god of medicine and healing) who had his fair share of lovers (male and female). Of course, this is about procreation and romantic passion, not love. We can see on the ancient coins that the silphium seed pod, the nucleus of new life, had a ♡ shape and it is from this that we get the heart symbol.
Not an entirely convincing story but it's the best we've found.
And it doesn't matter much; the important thing is love, and the heart symbol reminds us of love. Whether it's on a cross, a playing card or a valentine card, the symbol reminds us of somebody's love toward us. (See other Romantic Crosses)
The heart has been associated with love since ancient times. The Christian cross also, is a symbol of love. The Heart Cross helps us to focus our thoughts on this love.
This page is dedicated to the loving memory of Mr Edward Richards, who died of a heart attack whilst this webpage was being built. He was a man who gave his love so freely and was greatly loved by his family and friends.
Rest in peace Eddy