The Miraculous Medal (or bead) is also known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception. The design originates with Saint Catherine Labouré following her vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was crafted by the goldsmith Adrien Vachette.
Although not an official teaching of the Catholic Church, many believe believe that wearing the medal with a belief in faith and devotion can bring special graces through the intercession of Mary.
According to Catherine Labouré, on July 18 1830, on the eve of the feast of St. Vincent, she was woken by the the voice of a child calling her to the chapel. When she entered she heard the Virgin Mary say to her, “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world.”
On November 27, 1830 the Blessed Mary returned to Catherine during her evening meditations. She appeared inside an oval frame and standing upon a globe and from her hands shone rays of light over the globe. Around the margin of the frame appeared the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. As Catherine watched, the frame seemed to rotate, showing a circle of twelve stars, a large letter M surmounted by a cross, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns and Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced with a sword.
Mary then asked Catherine to reveal her visions to her confessor and to tell him that they should be put on medallions and that all who wear them will receive her grace.
Catherine did as she was asked. Her confessor investigated her claims for two years and was finally satisfied that she was telling the truth. He took the information to his archbishop but did not reveal Catherine’s identity. The request was approved and medallions were designed and produced by the goldsmith Adrien Vachette.
The chapel in which Saint Catherine experienced her visions is located at the mother house of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. The uncorrupedt bodies of Saint Catherine Labouré and Saint Louise de Marillac (co-founder of the Daughters of Charity) are interred in the chapel. The chapel is still a place of pilgrimage for Catholics today.
Pope John Paul II used a slight variation of the reverse image as his coat of arms, the Marian Cross, a plain cross with an M underneath the right-hand bar, this signifies the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the Cross when Jesus was being crucified.