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May Flowers

May Flowers

Mary's Flowers

- Vincenzina Krymow

During the Middle Ages, May Day celebrations honoring new life became associated with Mary.

May Hawthorn

The May hawthorn, which bears white blossoms in early spring, became known as Mary's Flower of May.

In earlier times "bringing in the May," the "May" being the flowering branches of any tree in bloom on the first of May, was the custom on the first of May in England and parts of Scotland.

Also in Medieval times the faithful honored Our Lady as the mother of all growing, living things. Konrad of Würzburg wrote:

You are a living paradise
Of gloriously colored flowers.

Rose and Lily

The faithful saw Mary's attributes in the herbs and flowers growing around them and named many plants after her. Legends about the flowers developed as people sought to connect them with events from Mary's life.

Mary was associated with this passage from the Song of Songs: "I am the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys." (2:1)

Roses and lilies became Mary's flowers. A legend from the second century says that when Mary's tomb was opened to show Thomas that her body had been assumed into heaven, it was filled with these flowers. The Venerable Bede (673-735) compared Our Lady to the lily... the white petals signifying her bodily purity, the golden anthers the glowing light of her soul....

The Madonna lily was associated with the Annunciation, and lilies are often depicted in scenes of the angel's visit to Mary.

Tradition tells us that the Amazon lily was the Star of Bethlehem guiding the Magi to Jesus. Other lilies were associated with Mary. The red lily was Mary's lily, and the Martagon or turban lily was called Our Lady's Tears. Hosta or plantain lily was the Assumption lily.

Rose legends proliferated, reaching their peak in the twelfth century. The Rosa Alba turned pink when Mary blushed at the angel's Annunciation, the Christmas Rose sprang up to provide flowers for the poor shepherd girl who had no gift for the Infant Jesus, the Rose of Jericho marked the spot where the Holy Family rested during their flight into Egypt, and the Rose Campion saved the life of a lord who prayed "Our Lady's Psalter."

In the fourteenth century the poet Dante called Mary "the Rose, in which the divine Word became flesh...." Many artists of the fifteenth century painted Mary with roses, often in a rose garden.

Images shown:
Martin Schongauer (1450-1491), The Annunciation, Museum Unterlinden, Colmar, France
Stephan Lochner (1400-1452), Madonna in the Rose Bower, 1448, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany

We can honor Mary this month by recalling the attributes of Mary called out by flowers and herbs named after her. The flowers can serve as starting points for prayer and meditation about Mary and her life.

Consider the following examples:

Mary's Gold

The marigold was called Mary's Gold by early Christians who placed the flowers around statues of Mary, offering the blossoms in place of coins. It was told that Mary used the blossoms as coins. A legend says that during the flight into Egypt the Holy Family was accosted by a band of thieves. They took Mary's purse and when they opened it, marigolds fell out. 

Our Lady's Modesty

The lowly violet was associated with humility and became known as Our Lady's Modesty. It was said to have blossomed when Mary said to the Angel Gabriel, who had come to tell her she was to bear the Son of God, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord."

Our Lady's Shoes

Michelino da Besozzo (1398-1443) Visitation Prayer Book c. 1420 Pierpont Morgan, NY

Fallen spurs of the columbine looked like Our Lady's Shoes and received that name. They were said to have sprung up where Mary's feet touched the earth when she was on her way to visit Elizabeth.

The spurred flowers resembled the tiny doves and came to represent the Holy Spirit. The flower also symbolized the innocence of Mary.

Image shown:
Michelino da Besozzo (1398-1443), Visitation, Prayer Book, c. 1420, Pierpont Morgan, NY

Our Lady of Purity

The alabaster white snowdrop became a symbol of Mary's purity and was called the Flower of Purification because it bloomed on February 2, the Feast of the Purification of Mary. In Italy and other countries in Europe the statue of Mary was removed from the altar on that day and snowdrops were strewn in its place. This day was also the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The flowers were called Candlemas Bells after the ceremony of blessing the candles began late in the eighth century and February 2 also became known as Candlemas Day.

Our Lady's Shelter

In Sicily it is told that the Madonna's Juniper Bush opened its branches to shelter the Holy Family when Herod's pursuing soldiers drew near them as they fled to Egypt. The rosemary bush and clematis were also said to have sheltered the Holy Family during the flight into Egypt. The rosemary's fragrance arose after Mary hung her linens to dry on its branches.

Lavender also was said to have received its scent after Mary laid Jesus' clothes on the plant to dry. It was called Mary's Drying Plant.

Our Lady's Cushion

The soft blossoms of sea-pink or thrift are said to have formed cushions for Mary to sit on when she rested during the long flight into Egypt. They became known as Our Lady's Cushion.

Our Lady's Thistle

Thistle was called Our Lady's Thistle. The leaves of the plant are said to have become spotted when drops of milk fell on them while Mary was nursing Jesus.

Leaves of the spotted cowslip of Jerusalem also became spotted when drops of Mary's milk fell on them.

Our Lady's Tears

Lily of the Valley was known as Mary's Tears. It is told that when Mary cried at the Cross, her tears turned into this flower.

Spiderwort and spotted lungwort were also called Our Lady's Tears.

Our Lady's Fruitfulness

Master from the Upper Rhine The Garden of Paradise (Detail) c. 1420 Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt a.M., Germany

The strawberry was called Fruitful Virgin and it was told that Mary would go a-berrying with her Son on St. John's Day, June 24. Also that any mother who had lost a child would not eat strawberries on that day for if she did, Mary would say to her child in heaven, "You must stand aside for your mother has eaten your share, and none remains for you."

Image shown:
Master from the Upper Rhine, The Garden of Paradise (Detail), c. 1420, Stadelsches Kunstinstitut,, Frankfurt a.M., Germany

Our Lady's Fingers

Hundreds of other flowers and herbs were named after Mary. Tendrils of the honeysuckle plant became Our Lady's Fingers.

The harebell or blue wood hyacinth was called Our Lady's Thimble and it was told that Mary earned a living for the family weaving and sewing.

Our Lady's Bells

The bell-like florets of several other species of campanula were named after Mary. Canterbury Bells were Our Lady's Bells or Our Lady's Nightcap.

Venus' Looking Glass was called Our Lady's Looking Glass. Others were called Bethlehem Star and Mary's Star.

Our Lady's Glove

The foxglove plant, with its glove-like blossoms, became Our Lady's Glove. In France it is known as Gant de Notre Dame.

It was said that Jesus hung the pendant blooms of the fuchsia plant on his mother's ears; the shrub was called Our Lady's Ear-drop. Impatiens is also known as Our Lady's Earrings.

Our Lady's Herbs

Herbs were named after Mary. Spearmint was known as Our Lady's Mint.

Marjoran was Mother of God's Flower. Bee balm and lemon balm were both called Sweet Mary. Catnip was Mary's Nettle. Sage was Mary's shawl. Dandelion was known as Mary's Bitter Sorrow.

A group of herbs became known as Manger Herbs because they made a bed for the Infant Jesus when he was born. Sweet woodruff and yellow bedstraw were called Our Lady's Bedstraw and creeping thyme was Mary's Bedstraw.

Mints and pennyroyal were also said to have been used in the manger.

Our Lady's Popularity

Some of the popular flowers of today are also named after Mary. Bachelor button is Mary's Crown, English daisy is Mary-Love, geranium is Mary's Flower, larkspur is Mary's Tears, pansy is Our Lady's Delight, morning glory is Our Lady's Mantle, petunia is Our Lady's Praises and zinnia is the Virgin.

Our Lady's Garden

Virgin with a Rose Trellis French School c. 1470-72 Museé de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame Strasbourg, France

In the twelfth century, this passage from the Song of Songs:

"You are an enclosed garden, my sister, my bride,"
became a symbol for Mary, the bride of Christ. (4:12)

The cloistered, enclosed garden, sometimes called a Paradise Garden, came to represent the purity of the Virgin Mary. We can honor Mary by planting her flowers in a garden dedicated to her. Gardens dedicated to Mary and containing flowers named after her are called Mary Gardens.

Image shown:
Virgin with a Rose Trellis, French School, c. 1470-72, Museé de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame, Strasbourg, France

Flower illustrations shown are from Our Lady's Book of Flowers, by Mabel Maugham, published by the Assisi Press, Dublin, in 1956.

Vincenzina Krymow's book, Mary's Flowers in Legends, Gardens and Meditations, was published by St. Anthony Messenger Press.

All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


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