The Christmas Rose Legend & Symbolism
The Christmas Rose: Legend and Symbolism
As we move towards Christmas, it’s easy to get distracted by the lights, sounds, and retail sales. Traveling from one place to another to visit family keeps us busy, as does worrying about whether or not there will be a “white Christmas” this year. Yet central to the season is Jesus Christ, our Lord, and His beloved mother Mary. Part of this centrality is a wide variety of symbolism. Colors, shapes, and even flowers tell us that Christmas is coming closer. Others symbolize the joy of the Christmas season.
One of these symbols is the Christmas rose, also known as the Glastonbury Rose. This is a little white flower that grows in northern Europe during the winter. Just its name alone is appropriate for the time of year when it blooms. Holly, winter berries, and evergreens are on the short list of winter greenery, but Christmas rose is the only real flower that blooms during that time. But why is this flower so important for Christians, and why has it become a major player in Christian art? The answer lies both in legend and symbolism.
Legend has it that the Christmas rose is of miraculous origin. Supposedly, on the way to meet baby Jesus, the shepherds and Wise Men were seen by a young girl named Madelon. One by one, every visitor had something to give the baby. In addition to gold, frankincense and myrrh, Jesus was given all kinds of presents in accordance with the visitor’s ability. Realizing that she had nothing to give, Madelon wept. Then, an angel visited her. It dusted off the snow from the ground. As Madelon kept crying, her tears turned into this beautiful white flower. The angel told her that the flower represented purity, and it was the greatest gift she could give. Rejoicing, she presented it to baby Jesus, and this flower has been a symbol of Epiphany ever since.
Largely due to the legend behind it, the Christmas rose has taken on great symbolic significance. Principally, the plant has come to symbolize both Mary and Jesus. The well-known hymn “Lo, How a Rose Er Blooming” is a meditation on the season, and it mentions both the Christmas rose and the Jesse tree. This connection is so well-known that Jesse trees are often depicted as the Christmas rose plant. In other words, those two symbols have become intertwined with each other, and have been for centuries.
In addition to being symbolic of Jesus and Mary, the Christmas rose represents purity. For that reason, it has often been carved into confessionals as a five-petal flower: the penitent walks in a guilty sinner, and out with their purity restored. It also appears in plenty of medieval heraldry, among other uses.
Lastly, the flower is a symbol of Saint Agnes. She was a martyr from the last Christian persecution under Diocletian. Her crime was refusing to marry the son of a Roman military officer because she wanted to dedicate her life to the service of God. Agnes was a mere 12 or 13 years old and died around the year 303. She is the patron saint of virgins, rape victims, and betrothed couples. This is in line with her being a symbol of purity. Especially for rape victims, their purity is violently stolen. Betrothed couples need help guarding their purity until marriage. Overall, St. Agnes is one of the most popular Christian martyrs.
With all this symbolism, it is easy to see why the Christmas rose is such a popular emblem in Christian art. Its message of peace, purity, and hope resonates through the generations. Best of all, it symbolizes the One who is Himself our hope and our peace. A Blessed Christmas to you all.
Soli Deo Gloria
P.S. This is a new design we had done for this Christmas season. We hope you like the Christmas Rose in the manger.
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