Symbolism in the Church #21

The stained glass above the main entry doors has the beautiful gothic arch with two keys crossing each other. These are the keys of Peter. They symbolize the meaning in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16, when Jesus tells Peter, “and I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven” (v19). This was given to St Peter himself and not the other disciples. Even in the early church by the year 200, St Clement of Alexandria said, “The blessed Peter, the Chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples for to whom alone…” (Who is the rich man saved). Tertullian wrote in the year 211, “remember that the Lord left the keys of it (heaven) to Peter here, and through him to the Church” (Antidote Against the Scorpion). So we can see from very early in Christendom, it was taught about Peter and his primacy and authority to bring God’s mercy to all.

Peter is depicted many times to have the keys in his hands. It is the first statue we see on top of the wall when coming into the Vatican square. We look for that statue because we have seen so many pictures of it. They are keys, but not a sword. Peter has been charged by God to bring as many people as possible to His mercy. Jesus prefers mercy (Mt 9:13). He trained his disciples in that particular ministry culminating in the crucifixion. Then He said, “come follow Me” (Jn 21:19). These keys are depicted above the doors, hoping that this mercy may be extended to all who pass through these doors.
On the right side over the doors is an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This has specific devotions. The Immaculate Heart is depicted by a heart crowned with roses, the sword pierces the heart, and lilies come out of the top of the heart. The sword should remind us of the Gospel of Luke when Simeon says, “and your heart too, a sword shall pierce” talking to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 2:35). Jesus died on the cross for us and Mary; His mother was with Him all the way through. She was there even after His death when the soldiers pierced His heart and out came blood and water (Jn 19:34). Moms have special relationships with their sons. What the sons experiences, the mothers experience, and it was no different with Mary and Jesus. Jesus’ heart was pierced, and so Mary’s heart was pierced as they were bound by love.
Mary represents humanity, and so the roses are given to her to give to all God’s children. She was immaculate, reminding us that as she was preserved from sin by the power of God, so we will be washed clean from sin by the power of God. Jesus gives his mother roses, as she gave him his humanity. We are now bound to Jesus in our humanity. He is our brother in humanity. Of course, Jesus loves His mother, but He loves each and every one of us. Nothing else could explain why He would want to die on the cross for us. Without Jesus on the cross, Mary could not be saved. The lilies on top of the heart represent purity. Her love for Jesus remained pure like most mothers for their children, the difference being that her child is God.
On the left side above the doors is an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is depicted very similarly to the Immaculate heart, but this heart has a crown of thorns. Roses have thorns. I picture Jesus picking roses for Mary; He took the thorns and gave to roses to Mary, and Mary gives them to us. Doesn’t that fit the description of Jesus? It is how we understand Mary as Catholics. Jesus is always willing to take the thorns, just to give us many roses. The sword represents the pierced heart of Jesus after His death on the cross. The cross is to remind us how He loved us, and of His power to save us in this life and the next. There is much more to this image and devotion which I encourage you to study.