Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Roses and Lilies By Vincenzina Krymow

From the author of Mary's Flowers: Gardens, Legends and Meditations

     Roses and lilies have been associated with Our Lady since the early days of Christianity.

     During the first century, heathen temples were transformed into Christian churches, and traditions once associated with heathen deities were transferred to Mary and the saints. As devotion to Mary spread, plants once dedicated to Venus, Roman goddess of Spring, were rededicated to Mary. Roses and lilies, sacred symbols of Venus, became Mary’s flowers.

     The white rose symbolized the Virginity of Mary and the perfect rose became a symbol of the Queen of Heaven. The lily represented chastity. The angel Gabriel is said to have held a lily (Madonna lily) in his hand when he came to tell Mary she would give birth to Jesus.
     One of the earliest legends, from the second century, tells us that when Mary was assumed into heaven, and her tomb was opened, it was found to be filled with lilies and roses.

     In the fourth century Mary became known as the Rosa Mystica. The cult of the Virgin began in Europe in the sixth century and by the seventh century the cult of Mary the Virgin and the Mystical Rose flourished.

     Early Christian poets saw Mary’s motherhood as enclosing heaven and earth within her womb, symbolized within the space of a single round rose. They associated Mary with the rose and the sealed garden of roses and lilies described in the Song of Solomon: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon, 2:1).

Legends about roses and lilies flourished, reaching a peak in popularity in the twelfth century. They told about important events in Mary’s life:

Artist, Brother Joe Barrish, S.M
     The Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) bloomed the night Jesus was born.
     The Rose of Jericho (Anastatica hierochuntica), also known as Mary’s Rose, sprang up every place she 
     and Joseph rested during the flight into Egypt.

   Devotion to Mary was rewarded as told in other legends. They tell of Mary placing a garland of roses (Rose Campion) on the head of an English lord who prayed to our Lady as he entered dangerous woods. Thieves saw the roses and let the lord pass unharmed. A wealthy knight was very devout but could only remember the first two words of the Ave Maria prayer. After he died and was buried a fleur-de-lis (yellow flag iris; lis means lily) sprang up from his grave, and the words “Ave Maria” appeared in golden letters on every blossom.


Hymns celebrated Mary and roses and lilies. St. Peter Damian, who lived in the eleventh century, wrote:

          He clothed you with lilies, covered you with roses
          He embellished you with the flowers of virtue

     In the twelfth century Pope Innocent III wrote these lines in a hymn titled The Assumption of the Virgin:

          Give roses, throw lilies For the queen
          Now divine
          Entered these hallowed halls

      During the Middle Ages Raphael, Signorelli, della Gatta, di Bicci and other artists painted Mary’s tomb filled with roses and lilies. Giotto, Fra Angelico and Francia depicted Mary with lilies and roses in paintings titled Enthroned Madonna, Madonna and Child and The Immaculate Conception.

By Vincenzina Krymow

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