Spotlight on the Monstrance of Our Lady of the Sign

If you get on the Kennedy Expressway and drive east into Chicago, you will pass by a tan brick church whose walls come within feet of the highway overpass. This is St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, another of those old, Polish neighborhood parishes Chicago is known for.

Inside St. Stan’s is perhaps the most intriguing piece of Catholic art in the United States.

The Monstrance of Our Lady of the Sign – Ark of Mercy is the centerpiece of St. Stan’s perpetual adoration chapel, the Chapel of Divine Mercy, which is itself a modern addition in reaction to the hustle and bustle of the City of Big Shoulders.

Art and Liturgy - Monstrance of Our Lady of the Sign - Seat of Mercy - St Stanislaus Kostka - Chicago Illinois
The Monstrance of Our Lady of the Sign – Ark of Mercy. Photo courtesy of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.

The monstrance is nine feet tall, weighs 700 pounds, and was unveiled in 2008.

Art and Liturgy - Our Lady of the Sign Icon
Our Lady of the Sign (18th century, iconostasis of the Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia).

Our Lady of the Sign is a common type of icon among Eastern Catholics. The Blessed Virgin is depicted with the Child Jesus in a circle over her heart. This monstrance, therefore, doesn’t depict Jesus but instead houses Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

The image is based on these icons, which explains its rather severe, even spooky, appearance. The work incorporates scriptural elements, as well, like the Greek inscriptions around the hemline of Mary’s tunic, which comes from Isaiah 61:10,

‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness’.

The inscription around the neckline,

My soul magnifies the Lord

comes from the Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke.

Other elements come from the Book of Revelation:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of His Covenant was seen within His Sanctuary… And a great Sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

This monstrance gives Our Lady a crown of twelve stars (that resembles a crown of thorns), but also conforms to the icon which places a star on her head, left shoulder, and right shoulder, signifying her perpetual virginity before, during, and after she carried the Christ Child.

She is depicted atop the Ark of the Covenant, which, as we know, was a prefiguration of the Blessed Virgin.

The ark’s design conforms closely to the description of the original given in Exodus. In scripture, the lid of the ark was called the “Mercy Seat.” One of Mary’s ancient titles is “Seat of Wisdom,” because she holds Christ, who is Wisdom, on her lap. We also know that Christ is Mercy, and so in this case Mary becomes the “Seat of Mercy” both by holding Christ and by forming the top of the ark.

There are not many good, publicly available photographs, so for now I can only include links: