The heart symbol is one of the single most enduring and widely recognized symbols in modern culture. But where did it come from?
Something like the familiar heart symbol goes back many thousands of years. Specifically, several pieces of pottery going back as far as 3000BC clearly show the unmistakable symbol. However, in these instances, the symbol is noted to be a simplification of either a fig or ivy leaf, not a crude representation of the human heart, and seemingly, at least initially, not having anything to do with love. Fast-forwarding through history and we find many cultures using a similar symbol, such as depicted in Grecian, Cretian, Minoan, Mycean, Roman and Corinthian pottery, along with many others. In these instances, again, the symbol doesn’t appear to be representative of a heart, but of various leaves.
As for direct evidence, appearing in a 13th century French manuscript and written by an unknown author, a simple romance tale called “Roman de la poire” (Romance of the pear) is now famous for featuring one of the the earliest known images of the heart in a metaphorical sense, where a man hands his heart to his lover. Its shape is likened to that of a conifer cone, in keeping with the known medical literature of the time. Around this same time in the 13th century, the royal banner of the kings of Denmark prominently depicted the heart symbol.
Whatever the case, during the next few hundred years, several things happened that saw the heart symbol’s popularity explode. Ironically, though the Church had played a large role in people being unaware of what an actual human heart looked like, it also was integral in the spreading of the heart symbol. Specifically, the so called “Sacred Heart of Jesus” was supposedly seen in a vision by one, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673.
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