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 Header-The Marvelous World of Our Lady's Flowers

 

While modern men look for happiness in instant gratification, there was once a time in Christendom when men believed happiness came from a true understanding of the order of the universe. They saw the universe as a great lesson book which, through symbols, one could come to know, love and serve God. One beautiful and touching page in this book was their perception of flowers.

Painting of a flower marketWith great practical sense born of observation, people of those distant times believed flowers to be symbolic of virtues and qualities that ultimately reflected the perfections of God, but which could be seen more directly in that most perfect of all God’s creatures – the Blessed Virgin.

Flowers belonged to Mary, the Mother of God.  In those times when spiritual life and daily life were so intertwined, flowers were a veritable catechism for the faithful.  Flowers transformed abstract virtues into easily understood symbols found in daily life and linked them to Our Lady, the perfect human model of Christian virtue.

Thus, there were at least a thousand flowers and herbs named after Our Lady, her qualities, and episodes in her life. In medieval times, each country circulated its own names and legends adapting to the local culture and flora.  Art, poetry and literature celebrated this intimate link between flowers and the Blessed Mother. To better contemplate these marvels, there were enclosed “Mary Gardens” with those flowers and herbs that spoke of her to the faithful.

Flower image 1Some of the flower names make this link easy to trace. The marigold comes from the idea that this bright yellow flower is “Mary’s gold.”  Carnation is a corruption of the word “coronation” since the flower was often used to crown statues of Our Lady.  The herb Rosemary is said to honor Mary, the Mystical Rose. “Lady’s Slipper,” like many other flowers that now begin with the word “lady,” was originally “Our Lady’s Slipper.”

However, other flower names have not survived to our times. The lily of the valley was called "Our Lady’s Tears"; since from afar the white flowers seemed like tear drops falling. The humble sweet violet used to be known as “Our Lady’s Modesty.” The enchanting forget-me-nots were reminders of the “Eyes of Mary.”  Even the lowly dandelion with its bitter tasting greens came to be called “Mary’s Bitter Sorrow.”  And the names go on and on, since nearly every familiar flower or herb known today had its equivalent Marian name.

Some flowers gained their name because they bloomed close to feast days. The snowdrop, for example, was called “Candlemas Bells” since it often bloomed early on Candlemas – the feast of the Purification. The Assumption lily bloomed near the feast of the Assumption.  It represented her immaculate purity, virginity and innocence that were rewarded by her assumption into heaven.

Of course, the rose came to symbolize Mary from the earliest times of the Church since it is a flower so rich in expression that it encompassed her purity, sorrow and glory. Numerous varieties of roses are associated with the Blessed Mother: the Rose of Sharon, Christmas Rose, or Scotch Rose. A collection of roses in a garden was called a rosarium. Later, a collection of Hail Mary prayers became known as a Rosary.

From this vision of flowers came lore and pious legend full of innocence and wonder. Legend has it, for example, that the tiny flower columbine sprang up wherever Our Lady’s foot touched the ground when on her way to visit her cousin Saint Elizabeth and was thus called “Our Lady’s Shoes.”  It was said the carnation (also called “Mary’s Love of God”) first appeared when it sprang from the tears of the Blessed Mother that fell upon the ground upon seeing her Son carry the Cross.  The lily, it was said, was originally yellow and came from the sorrowful tears of Eve upon being expelled from paradise. When Our Lady stooped to pick a lily, the lily became white and fragrant.  It is told that the stars of the heavens came down to earth in their desire to glorify the Christ Child in Bethlehem and planted themselves around the manger as radiant buttercups.

Flower image 2While such stories were but mere legend, they spoke of great truths. They served to enchant, instruct and inspire the faithful to greater devotion and love of God. They made more human that tender connection between the Blessed Mother and fallen humanity.  In this way, common flowers united all in virtue, speaking through poetry and song to saint and sinner, rich and poor, old and young, learned and ignorant.

Such was the marvelous world of Our Lady’s flowers that we have lost.  It is but one of many pages of that great lesson book where even the most common things in Creation were a source of simple joys accessible to all.  Indeed, even sorrow in this vale of tears was made meaningful and beautiful.

For our sad days, it is a lesson for us.  If we are to return to some kind of order, it must not have as its basis the sterile statistics of a society where money alone rules.  It cannot have as its foundation the frenetic intemperance of rushed lifestyles.  Such things lead to frustration not happiness.

Doubtless we must provide amply for material needs.  However, this order should have as its aim the desire to understand the meaning of things by seeking out their final and highest causes, which is called wisdom.  In an order based on wisdom, men derive great happiness in naturally seeking God or the likeness of God in all things – even in common flowers.  

 


   

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for January 17, 2021

People hate the truth for the sake of whatever it is they lo...

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January 17

 

People hate the truth
for the sake of whatever it is they love more than the truth.
They love truth when it shines warmly upon them
and hate it
when it rebukes them.

St. Augustine of Hippo


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Anthony of Egypt

Anthony’s parents died before he was twenty leaving him in...

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St. Anthony of Egypt

Anthony was born in 251 in the village of Koman, south of Memphis in Egypt. Anthony’s well-to-do parents died before he was twenty leaving him in charge of a younger sister, and the owner of a considerable estate.

In 272, wishing to leave all to follow Christ, after securing his sister’s support and upbringing, he distributed his holdings among the poor, and retired to a life of solitude. He lived a life of penance, sleeping on a rush mat on the bare floor, eating and drinking bread and water. The devil was allowed to attack him grievously, on one occasion subjecting him to a beating that left him for dead, only to be saved by friends.  Anthony emerged victorious from all these trials.

At the age of thirty-five, the holy hermit moved from his solitude in the vicinity of his native village, to a location across the eastern branch of the river Nile where he made his abode in some ruins on the summit of a mountain. There he lived for twenty years, rarely seeing any man except one who brought him bread every so often.

St. Athanasius, his friend and first biographer, speaks of Anthony as not only spending his time in prayer and meditation but also in making mats. He also gardened.

At fifty-four, being sought out by men who wanted to follow his way of life, Anthony founded his first monastery in Fayum in a series of scattered caves, which he visited occasionally.

In 311 as religious persecution again broke out under Emperor Maximinus, Anthony left his solitude to give courage to the martyrs in Alexandria. When the persecution abated, he returned to his previous solitude. He later founded another community of monks near the Nile called Pispir, though he continued to live on his mountain.

Years later, at the request of the bishops, Anthony again journeyed to Alexandria to confute the Arians, who denied the divinity of Christ. All ran to hear the holy hermit, and even pagans, struck by the dignity of his character, flocked around him. Heathen teachers and philosophers often sought him out, and were astounded at his meekness and wisdom.

Anthony died at age 101 surrounded by his spiritual sons in his hermitage on Mount Kolsim. His last words were, “Farewell, my children, Anthony is departing and will no longer be with you.” Thus saying, he stretched out his feet and calmly ceased to breathe.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him h...

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Mary and the Muslim

Don Octavio del Monaco was a wealthy citizen of 17th century Naples. Like many of his class, Don Octavius had several Muslim slaves in his household. These children of Islam were amazed at the kindness of their “master.” He fed and clothed them better than they received in their native land. In return, his slaves attended to their tasks with diligence, as Don Octavius did not over work them, but assigned them duties in keeping with their dignity as children of God.

If these Muslim slaves had any reason for complaint, it was the gentle persistence with which their master and his wife exhorted them to give up their false religion and become Catholics. Don Octavius even went so far as to invite the slaves to join his family in the chapel to worship the one true God with them!

Our story today is about one young slave in particular. His name was Abel, like the slain son of Adam and Eve. He felt drawn in a peculiar way to a lamp that burned in front of a shrine to Holy Mary. Abel would purchase the oil needed to keep the lamp lit from his own meager stipend. As he continued to practice this humble devotion, he would say, “I hope that this Lady will grant me some great favor.”

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian. At first the Turk resisted. But she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said to him: “Now no longer resist, Abel, but be baptized and called Joseph,” conferring on him a name that was very dear to her Immaculate Heart indeed.

On August the 10th, 1648, there was much rejoicing in Heaven, for on that day “Joseph” and eleven other Muslims converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Their conversion was brought about by the kindness shown by Don Octavius and the special intercession of the Mother of God.

Our story does not end here. Even once this son of hers was safely baptized, Mother Mary delighted in visiting him. Once, after having appeared to him, she was about to depart. But the Moor seized her mantle, saying, “Oh, Lady, when I find myself afflicted, I pray you to let me see you.” In fact, she one day promised him this and when Joseph found himself afflicted he invoked her, and Mary appeared to him again saying, “Have patience", and he was consoled.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian.

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