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John Stokes and Mary's Gardens

Flowers of Mary's Sorrows

Flower Symbols of Mary's Sorrows

– John S. Stokes Jr.

The Flowers of Mary's Sorrows most frequently grown in Mary Gardens are:

Mary's Sword (of Sorrow) – from Simeon's prophecy to Mary at the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple that her soul would be pierced by a sword that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

  • Iris (spear-like foliage)

Mary's Tears – from legends that flowers with tear-drop resemblance sprang up where Mary's tears fell on the ground at the foot of the Cross.

  • Virginia Spiderwort (blue tear-like fluid from spent blooms)
  • Ladies Mantle (drops of water remaining on leaves from rain)
  • Lily-of-the-Valley (small tear-like white blooms)
  • Gromwell (small tear-like white blooms)
  • Quaking Grass (tear-like seed clumps)
  • Job's Tears (round tear-like seeds. Used for stringing Rosary beads, and thus known in Spain also as Lagrimas de Rosario, Rosary Tears)
  • Larkspur (tear-like buds)
  • Sundew (tear-like drops of rain water on flower filaments}


Lungwort (blue flower eyes, with reddish buds, seen together to symbolize Mary's eyes red from crying), and

Mary's (torn) Tresses (of Hair) – recalling the popular folk tradition that Mary tore out locks of her hair in her agonizing sorrow at the foot of the Cross.

  • Ladies Tresses
  • Quaking Grass
  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Yellow Bedstraw
  • Asparagus Fern

(Photos of all above-listed plants, and also of many others, viewable through links in the" Miniature Flower Photos" listing - accessible under OVERVIEW on the Mary's Gardens website home page)

Also, additionally, from the research, but photos not yet posted:

Mary's Tresses

  • Maidenhair
  • Travelers' Joy
  • Dodder
  • Dryas
  • Fire Weed
  • Hemp Nettle
  • Barley
  • St. Johnswort
  • Kennelworth Ivy
  • Toadflax
  • Rush
  • Shield Fern
  • Calliandra
  • Bulrush
  • Shaving Brush

The number of flowers named as symbols of Mary's Tresses or Hair, and the accompanying legend of her tearing of these from her head at the foot of the Cross, evidently served - together with the many flower symbols of her Tears - to fill the desire of the medieval faithful for outwards signs honoring, and quickening reflection on, the intensity of Mary's co-redemptive interior motherly sufferings as the sword of sorrow over Jesus' suffering piercing her soul

Like other religious flower symbols, those of Mary's sorrows were discovered and named in accordance with the medieval doctrine of Signatures - that in the unity of the creation of the spiritual and the material, of heaven and earth, through the eternal Word of God, mirrors are to be found in nature of the persons, events and objects of Revelation.

Some flower symbols, such as Mary's Sword (of sorrow), were recognized and named directly from words of scripture; while others, such as those of her tears and her torn locks of hair, came through popular legends derived from scripture and popular tradition.

Some legends have come down directly from the early days of the Church, while others were introduced in Europe together with purported relics brought from the Holy Land by returning crusaders and pilgrims. As described in Benedicta Ward's "Miracles and the Medieval Mind" (1982), a number of such relics were taken on tour on the continent in 1112 and in England in 1113, accompanied by many miracles. Among these relics were those of Mary's smock, slippers and tresses; and also objects bearing traces of her milkdrops, while nursing the infant Jesus, and of her teardrops, while standing at the foot of the Cross - for all of which, flower symbols were discovered and named, for continuation of the reflection introduced by the touring relics.

For most of the life of the Church - before the popular introduction of printing, literacy and schools in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries - such flower symbols of Mary were widely available supports for religious instruction, also serving to quicken Marian reflection, prayer and meditation when they were encountered daily in the course of the predominantly rural life of the period.

Today, the spiritual unction of these centuries-old symbolical flowers continues to quicken our spiritual life as we recognize and care for them in gardens, and see them in ornamental bouquets and plantings, and in the countrysides.

As the flower legends were spread throughout medieval Europe through the centuries by wandering minstrels, poets and players, and by missionaries and mendicant preachers, different locally growing flowers were seen and named to recall the same legends in different places - accounting for the numbers of flowers found in the research for the same symbolism, such as for Mary's hair.

Significantly, some of this religious flower symbolism was so widely established that, as gardening books were written, the symbolic names were adopted as the general common names for the plants, and have thus come down to us in the present day - names which also were extended to plants of like forms introduced to Europe from other continents. Among these were Ladies Tresses, Ladyslippers (extended to tropical orchids) and Ladies Mantle ("lady" and "ladies" in the names of plants were introduced, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as foreshortenings of the original "Our Lady's"). The Milk Thistle was so widely recognized as symbol of Mary's milkdrope (from the white markings on its leaves) that botanists, in their classification of plants, gave it the scientific name of "Silybum Marianum" (Mary's Thistle).

Legends also tell of Mary's early pondering of her motherly sorrows to come, prophecied by Simeon. Thus, the legend of "Our Lady's Little Brushes" - Fuller's Teasel seed heads - tells that as Mary brushed the hair of the infant Jesus she pondered in her heart that this hair would one day be bloodied. Similarly, the legend of the (English) Daisy - "Mother of God's Flower" - tells that when at the Nazareth home of the Holy Family some blood drops from a cut on the boy Jesus' hand fell on them, some of the petals of the all white blooms of this flower turned red, and so continued to bloom - in viewing which Mary ever pondered in her heart Jesus' prophecied redemptive sacrifice.

Others of Mary's sorrows, for which we have not as yet found specific flower symbols, are (*)

Servite Rosary of Our Lady's Seven Sorrows

1 The prophecy of Simeon
*2 The flight into Egypt.
*3 The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple.
*4 The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross.
5 The Crucifixion.
*6 The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross.
*7 The burial of Jesus

Numerous flowers recognized and named as symbols of Christ's Passion and Cross - some of which have likewise been adopted in secular namings, such as Crown of Thorns and the Passion Flower - are grown in Mary Gardens likewise as symbols of Mary's Sorrowful Mysteries, as meditated on in the Rosary.

Because of Mary's interior motherly participation in Christ's Passion and Cross, the many flower symbols of these are also seen to recall her co-redemptive motherly sorrows.


The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

1. Agony in the Garden

  • St. Johnswort - Christ's (bloody) Sweat

2. Scourging at the Pillar

  • Red Millfoil - Christ's (bloodied) Back

3. Crowning with Thorns

  • Crown of Thorns

4. Carrying of the Cross

  • Tigridia - Christ's (bloodied) Knee, from his falls

5. Crucifixion

  • Wild Geranium slender seed pods - Christ's Nails
  • Poppy - Christ's Blood Drops
  • Passion Flower - multiple symbolism of Christ's


(See also The Garden Way of the Cross)

The Passion Flower is of special interest because there exist historical records of its discovery growing in Mexico by European missionaries, and of its introduction into Europe, as set forth in the website article "The Passion Flower" - accessible through a link under GARDEN PRAYER & MEDITATION on the website home page.

The Church prohibits reference to or symbolism of "Mary's Cross", the Cross being uniquely Christ's. However, in the research there are the tiny cross-shaped flowers of Sweet Alyssum, named "Mary's Little Cross", as symbol of the interior Cross of Christ borne in her heart and soul.

In general, Mary was perceived, in accordance with the prophecy of Simeon, as sharing in Christ's suffering spiritually and emotionally, through the sword of sorrow piercing her soul, but not physically. One exception found in the research was the Gaelic flower naming of "Allus Muire" or "Mary's Sweat" for St. Johnswort, - elsewhere named "Christ's (bloody) Sweat", from the tiny red dots on its blooms. A unique medieval symbol of Mary's envisaged direct sharing in Christ's sufferings.

We are to understand that it is because of the totality of Mary's participative sorrowful motherly union with Christ's Passion and Death, that she is Co-redemptrix in his redemption of the world, as he took upon himself all its sins and their effects, and thus all human sufferings and sorrows, including her motherly sorrowings. These sins and their effects assumed by him were banished into the outer darkness through the death of his body, so that in the thus cleansed, redeemed, world, the building of the earthly Peaceable Kingdom could be resumed, with our sanctified sharing and participation, in grace - in accordance with the divine will for the culmination of Creation.

Mary's co-redemption is a dimension of her blessed, prerogatived, fully unitive sharing in the divine action - a sharing which is the divine Creational purpose and will for us all. In this she shares in Christ's Redemptive action at the foot of the Cross, as she shared previously in the procreating and parental action of the Father through her Divine Motherhood of Christ, and as she was also to share - through her universal motherly, queenly mediation - in all the sanctifying, renewing and Kingdomal action of her spouse, the Holy Spirit.

It is for reason of God's selection and endowment of Mary for elevation to full, unique union with the divine action - through her immaculate purity, her utter humility, and her total assent - that we venerate and love her, imitate her, and pray to her as the pure personal instrument through whom God is enabled to share all his action in the world, as our spiritual mother. We are reminded of St. Francis Xavier's discovery that when, in praying before the crucifix each evening he envisioned Mary at the foot of the cross, co-redeeming and mediating grace, the number of graced missionary conversions through his preaching the next day was increased.

As Christ's redemptive Passion and Cross are continued each day in all the Masses of the world, so also is Mary's co-redemptive participation with him in them through the sorrows of her motherly heart and soul in heaven - on which we reflect through the flowers of her sword, tears, torn tresses and of other sorrowful symbolism. In this, as at Calvary, she is the model for our compassion for Christ's sufferings, as we enter into them redemptively in union with her sorrows; and as we embrace our own pains and sorrows as those also of Jesus, as he takes them up upon himself as his own together with those of all the world, for incorporation in his continuing redemptive sacrifice.

In her appearance at la Salette, as weeping Madonna, Mary showed us her continuing sorrows in heaven - indicating that they are both for Jesus' suffering on the Cross; and for sinning humankind, whose repentance she implored. To show her sword of sorrow from Christ's sufferings by more than her tears, she displayed on her garments representations of the Instruments of Christ's torture: the nails, hammer and pliers - as we behold the flower symbols of Christ's nails in the Mary Garden.

Assumed into heaven, in body as well as soul, Mary now has the heavenly attributes of instant movement and universal presence which enable her as Mediatrix of all Grace to be personally present through her action wherever grace is distributed. Yet she also retains the affective, emotional, feeling, experience of motherly love, mercy and pity, and also of sorrow - as Christ's mother and now also ours. Just as Jesus continues the bodily pain and death of the Cross in the daily re-enactment of the Mass in all the churches throughout the world, as he takes upon himself each day's new sins and their effects for banishment into the outer darkness, that the redemption of the world may be sustained for the continued building of God's Kingdom in grace - so does Mary continue her heavenly co-redemptive spiritual communion and action with him through the sword of sorrow piercing her soul.

Further, in addition to her sharing in God's redeeming action as pre-rogatived co-Redemptrix, she also shares in it as his Mother, who like all mothers, wishes to see the culmination of her son's work - here the work of his redemption of the world and the building of the Peaceable Kingdom.

In sum, through the flower symbols of Mary's sorrows, not only do we honor her, but we are also quickened by them to imitate her in uniting all our sufferings and sorrows co-redemptively with Christ's, as she does with hers - for the continuing redemption of the world, that the building of its culminating Peaceable Kingdom may go forward, in grace.

In addition to turning to Mary for consolation in our sorrows and pains, we - "making up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ" (Paul) - are enabled through her to join in Christ's use of them for the redemption of world. This was the counsel given by Father Robert Baffa, Pastor, Pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, Vermont , in a Mary Garden prayer service for loved ones lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist bombing of the New York City World Trade Center Twin Towers (See website Chat section).

For daily reflection and meditation on Mary's sorrows, flowers symbolizing them may be grouped together in Mary Gardens, Rosary Walks, dish Mary Gardens and virtual Mary Gardens.

And here is another instance of the unique meaningfulness of flower color symbolism. Just as white and blue colored flowers call us to the spiritual purification that, like Mary we may ever be open to filling with grace; and white and gold flowers to the purification that our prayers to Mary for her heavenly intervention and mediation may first of all ever be personally "disinterested" for God's and Mary's intentions for the world and the coming of God's Kingdom - so do white and red flowers call us to the purification that our sufferings and sorrows may, like Mary's, ever be joined with Christ's sufferings in reparation for sins and for the redemption of the world.

Copyright Mary's Gardens, 2002

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 early 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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