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John Stokes and Mary's Gardens

Church Plant Symbolism of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In the prevailing culture of Greece and Rome at the time of Christ, and of the beginning Church, flowers and all nature were seen as inhabited by polytheistic false gods and goddesses: Jupiter, Venus, Diana, Pan, Daphne, Adonis, etc. As one writer put it, "All the gods had their temples in nature, except the one true God."

These deities were venerated and petitioned through offerings presented before their images at public and also household altars, as found, for example, in the homes excavated at Pompeii. The Roman Martyrs, including two patron saints of gardeners, Saint Dorothy, who sent flowers to earth from the heavenly paradise, and St. Phocas, who dug his own grave with his gardening spade on the eve of his execution in hope of the resurrection, were put to death for their refusal to pay homage to the pagan gods.

Only in the religion of the Chosen People of Israel was nature celebrated, as in the Psalms, as showing forth the goodness, attributes and handiwork of one God, Creator of Heaven and Earth; and, as in the "Song of Songs", providing poetic imagery of the soul's mystical love for God.

In the fullness of time, through the fiat of the Blessed Virgin's assent to be the Mother of the Divine Word Incarnate, and through Christ's expiating sacrifice on the Cross, flowers, along with the rest of the world and nature, were freed of their associations with the false pagan deities imposed upon them. Thus liberated, flowers, in their created purity, beauty and varied forms from the hand of God, were then given true Christian associations through the renewing poetic imagery of faith, hope and love.

In this they referred to Jesus, Mary and the Saints, but especially to Mary, "our fallen nature's solitary boast", as ready symbolic reminders of her immaculate purity and of her prerogatives, as our divinely blessed model and mediatrix, in intimate cooperative union with Christ, of the graces for our spiritual perfection, for our works of love and mercy for neighbor, and for our building of the earthly Kingdom of peace and justice, for presentation by Christ to the Heavenly Father.

Accordingly, flower imagery from the scriptures and nature was applied to Mary in the writings of the Church Fathers and in the liturgy, providing the foundation in Tradition for the subsequent naming of hundreds of flowers for Mary's life, mysteries, virtues, excellences and divine prerogatives in the popular religious folk traditions of the medieval countrysides - as recorded by botanists, folklorists and lexicographers.

From Queen of the Missions, April, 1955:

I. THE FATHERS' PRAISE OF MARY, Orate Fratres, Collegeville Minnesota May 1951 pp 268-271 (abstracted):

The following list of titles of Mary drawn exclusively from the patristic writing compiled by Sister Marie Stephen O.P. of Rosary College from "The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries", by Fr. Thomas Linius, C.SS.R., published by Burns and Oates in 1893.

Most holy paradise of Eden. Tree of good foliage. Tree of Life. Earth unsown. Cloud raining upon the earth. Burning bush unconsumed. Open Meadow. Blossoming rod of Aaron. Fruitful olive tree. Tree of the Father. Flower of the field. Lily of the valley. Spotless lily that brought forth Christ the unfading rose. Garden enclosed. Garden fertile though untilled. Vine fruitful with grapes. Vine bringing forth a pleasant odor. Rod that blossomed forth Christ as the flower. Mead of sweet savor. Unleavened meal banishing from food the bitterness of death. Root of the loveliest Flower that blooms. Flower unfading. Garden of the Father. Root of all good things. Vine bearing beautiful grapes.

II. OUR LADY'S TITLES IN THE BREVIARY, Worship, Collegeville Minnesota May 1952 pp 319-322 (abstracted):

Sister Marie Stephen, O.P.... has now compiled a second list of Our Lady's titles from the divine office of the Roman rite:

Royal virgin of David's rose. Fruit to the barren. Paradise where blossoms the Tree of Life. Verdant tree of life-giving joy. Flourishing vine. Bush burning and unconsumed. Apple tree among the trees of the woods. Keeper in the vineyard. Garden enclosed. Unploughed field. Cedar of Libanus. Cypress of Mount Sion. Bud of promise. Slender branch carrying the Fruit of the whole human race. Priestly rod blossoming without root. Lily among the thorns. Flowering rod of Aaron. Rod of Jesse bearing Christ. Fruit from which came the sweet Jesus. First rose of martyrs. Choice of firstfruits. Light cloud releasing heavenly rain. Rose soothing the afflicted. Rose giving back to all the destiny of salvation. Rose white by virginity. Rose ruddy by love. Rose white in seeking virtue. Rose ruddy in trampling vices. Rose white in purifying the affections. Rose ruddy in mortifying the flesh. Rose white in loving God. Rose ruddy in pitying her neighbor. Bridal Flower. Garden of delight. Mountain of God, fertile and shady. Flowers of the roses in springtime. Lily at the edge of the stream. Flower of the field. Palm tree in Cades. Roseplant in Jerusalem. Rosebush in Jerico. Fair olive tree in the plains.

Reprinted with permission.

The John Stokes and Mary's Garden collection was transferred to the Marian Library in May 2013. In addition to his archives, manuscripts, artwork, and personal library, John S. Stokes also donated his extensive website. It was transferred to the Marian Library in 2010. This particular entry is archived content original to Stokes' Mary's Gardens website. It is possible that some text, hyperlinks, etc. are outdated.


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