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John Stokes and Mary's Gardens

Mary's Flowers: Gardens, Legends and Meditations

A Review:

Mary's Flowers, Gardens, Legends, and Meditations by Vincenzina Krymow, with illustrations by A. Joseph Barrish, S.M. and meditations by M. Jean Frisk - October 1999, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, and Novalis, Toronto, 192 pages, hard cover, 55 color illustrations.

Mary's Flowers is not a book to be read once through for information and idea development, but one to be visited, savored and re-visited again and again, prayerfully - as with a Medieval Book of Hours.

The simple, direct and clear writing and layout of Vincenzina Krymow's documentation and elucidation of Marian flower symbolism and its history; of Brother Joseph Barrish's flower illustrations; and of Sister M. Jean Frisk's flower meditations have a spiritually unctioned quality which presents and inspires Marian veneration, devotion and prayerful recourse with a new freshness and vitality. After dipping into the book, one emerges with the sense of grace experienced after a spiritual retreat.

After familiarizing ourselves with the organization and contents of the book, we then, on picking it up, turn to one of Sr. Jean's flower meditations - entering, through its thought, or perhaps directly, into affective communion with Mary; a communion which is quickened by the sense of her presence as one spends time in the Mary Garden reflecting on her flowers at every hand. Frances Crane Lillie experienced this sense of Mary's presence in the first U.S. public Mary Garden, established by her at St. Joseph's Parish Church in Woods Hole, Massachusetts - one of five prominent Mary Gardens described in the book - so much so that she entitled her visitor's leaflet listing the Marian names of the flowers in the garden, "Our Lady in Her Garden."

As we are schooled by Sister Jean's meditations, and look through the legendary materials of the flowers, with their myriad of symbolism, associations and scriptural reminders, we learn to follow our own meditational inspiration as we work in or move through our Mary Gardens - in nature, or, away from the garden, virtually in our hearts and imaginations. In this, we meditate on, emulate and make prayerful recourse to Mary's life, virtues, mysteries and divinely endowed prerogatives in our own lives. In time, as we become more familiar with and are directly quickened to meditation and prayer by Mary's flowers, our meditations are intuitively inspired by simply beholding them - without recourse to words or memory.

With this, our meditations are likewise directly quickened, also, as we behold Brother Joseph's painted woodcut illustrations of the flowers of the book - their medieval style bespeaking St. Paul's teaching of the Doctrine of Signatures, that "through things visible, we learn of things invisible."

For those inspired through the meditations and legends of "Mary's Flowers" to plant a Mary Garden, large or small, outdoors, or a dish or windowsill Mary Garden indoors, the final section of the book suggests symbolically rich and easy to grow plants for starting a Mary Garden. The Appendix provides a larger list of some three hundred Flowers of Our Lady from which to choose.

For gardening instructions readers are referred to the Mary's Gardens website where still further Flowers of Our Lady are to be found - together with many flowers symbolic of Jesus' Passion, often grown in Mary Gardens for further meditations on Mary's sorrowful mysteries.

Also included in this section are descriptions of five major U.S. Mary Gardens - at Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Annapolis, Maryland; Cincinnati, Ohio; Dayton, Ohio and Portage, Michigan. Extensive garden "tours" by the author of the first three gardens, with numerous photos, are to be found on the Mary Page of the Marian Library of Dayton, Ohio website at: (Do a search for "Krymow") This section concludes with sacramental garden blessings from the Roman and other rites, which contribute to the sense and efficacy of Mary Gardens as holy places.

Further Considerations For Marian Devotion Today

In our quickening to reflection, meditation and prayer by Mary's Flowers, we emulate the first four qualities of true devotion to Mary, as taught by St. Louis de Montfort - a devotion that is interior, tender, holy and constant. Further, as Vincenzina sets forth in the book's marvelous introductory summaries of scriptural, patristic, medieval and modern devotion to Mary, we are called by the Church in the Second Vatican Council, for our times, for the modern world, also to reflect on, emulate, and turn in prayer to Mary's broader mission in salvation history.

In medieval times, which gave rise to Marian flower symbolism, the majority of Christians were rural villagers, many of whom lived out their lives in their native villages without knowledge of other places and lands, other than perhaps a pilgrimage to their Cathedral. For them the coming of God's Kingdom was seen primarily in transcendent, heavenly terms. But today, with literacy and printing, and modern transportation, communications and TV, most now have a global perception of the entire world in which we live; such that "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" - for which Jesus instructs us to pray - takes on the much more specific, immediate, here and now quality of the grace-dependent reconciliation of the "peace process", of establishing God's Peaceable Kingdom here on earth.

In this it is affirmed by Creation Theology that our spiritual and material world was indeed created for the purpose of showing forth and sharing the divine goodness and action with humans, created to this end in the divine image and likeness - soul, intellect, will, heart and body - male and female. And although the world has fallen - the world soul damaged, and humans darkend in intellect, weakened in will and disordered in concupicence - all has been redeemed by Christ, that through the restored grace and inspiration of the Holy Spirit we may renew the face of the earth so that on the last day it may be transformed into a New Creation, a New Heaven and New Earth, in which, our bodies resurrected and rejoined with our souls, may share in God's goodness and action, lifting up all in grateful return to the Father, transfigured, in the union of the Holy Spirit of love, for all eternity.

God's most sublime fulfillment of the Creational purpose of human sharing has been achieved in Mary through her divinely prepared, called, and freely accepted, unique role in Creation and Salvation history - in intimate union and close cooperation with her Divine Son and Lord, Jesus Christ - as universal co-redeeming, advocating and mediating personal, church and world Mother and Queen.

In our times, Mary, assumed body and soul into heaven, comes to us, fully sharing in the Divine action as co-redemptrix, advocate and universal mediatrix - as our merciful, healing, Mother, as at Lourdes; and as our merciful Queen of heaven and earth, as at Fatima, where, for peace on earth, she summons us to universal reparational consecration, through her Immaculate Heart, to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and his intentions.

In this consecration we emulate de Montfort's fifth quality of true devotion to Mary, that in addition to being interior, tender, holy and constant, it is personally disinterested, without self-interest - interested only in being the instrument of God's will for Kingdom, through Mary's divinely endowed motherly and queenly mediation of all grace, for the reception of and response to which we prayerfully emulate her virtues.

As it was after medieval times that devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts became widespread in the Church, although it had its private origins earlier, there have been found no popular medieval flower symbols or legends of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, although the piercing of Mary's soul with the sword of sorrow was depicted in art as a sword- or thorn-pierced sorrowful heart.

It was my privilege to discuss this with Frances Lillie, founder and benefactor of the Woods Hole Garden of Our Lady - who had been an invalid for years - in the one visit I had with her, in 1954 (although in 1951 I had been able to reach her by telephone through the providential accident that her nurse thought my call from Philadelphia to Chicago was from one of her daughters - at which time she gave us her blessing to continue her pioneering work with the Flowers of Our Lady and Mary Gardens through the founding of Mary's Gardens of Philadelphia).

Thus, one day in the late summer of 1954, while I was vacationing near Woods Hole, Father Stapleton, Pastor of St, Joseph's, who used to bring Holy Communion to Mrs. Lillie at her summer home, telephoned to say that she was having one of her rare lucid periods (I had been attempting for four years, with his assistance, to meet with her), and that for her birthday the next day her daughters were inviting me to visit with her for tea.

While wondering what present to bring her, a color postcard of some bleeding heart flowers providentially caught my eye in a Falmouth drug store; and as I turned it over, there, in French, German and English were three European names for this flower: "Fleur de Marie", "Frauenhertz" and "Heart of Mary". Not having been found in Frances Lille's medieval research, this more recently introduced flower signature - from China - of Mary's Immaculate Heart brought tears of joy as she beheld the card; and we discussed God's joy in the fullness of the union and sharing of Mary's Heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, her Divine Son and Lord, in the creation, redemption and sanctification of the world for the culmination of God's eternal Kingdom.

As deepening devotion to Mary though the centuries and further definition of her role in salvation history have prepared us for consecration through her Immaculate Heart to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, so, do the legends, illustrations and meditations of "Mary's Flowers" likewise have their culmination in devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart. In searching through Brother Joseph's woodcuts I thus rejoiced as I found the heart-shaped petals of "Our Lady's Rose" - Lychnis coronaria, Rose Campion.

illustrated Our Lady's Rose

How fitting that the ground-breaking for the culminating U. S. Mary Garden at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, being donated by the National Council of Catholic Women, took place on the feast of the Imaculate Heart of Mary, 1999, and that the dedication of the planted garden is to take place on this Feast of the Millennial Year, 2000!

Historical Note

In addition to its important contribution to renewed devotion to Mary and to prayerful recourse to her for the world, Mary's Flowers also makes a definitive scholarly contribution to the history of religious flower symbolism.

It does this in a comprehensive and all-inclusive overview of flower symbolism in Scripture; in the writings of the Church Fathers, saints and mystics; in the liturgy; in religious art; and in the legends of the popular oral traditions of the medieval countrysides - with a cataloging of some 300 flowers symbolically named for Mary, suggested lists of plants for outdoor and indoor Mary Gardens, and descriptions and photos of five major contemporary U.S. Mary Gardens.

In art, the religious flower symbols of patristic and medieval tradition were incorporated and preserved in medieval and Renaissance woodcuts, drawings and paintings of the Blessed Virgin Mary - some titled "Mary Gardens" - and in the miniature paintings for private meditation in books of hours - as set forth in Elizabeth Haig's Floral Symbolism in the Great Masters, London, 1913.

In written tradition, religious names of flowers of the oral traditions of the medieval countrysides were first noted as a group in C. Bauhin's Plants Which Have Various Holy Names, published in Switzerland in 1591.

In 1858, Rev. Louis Gemminger, Pastor of St. Peter's Church, Munich, delivered thirty-one sermons on flower symbols of the Virgin Mary - one for each day of May - published as Flowers of Mary, Baltimore, 1984, in English translation from the fourth German edition.

In The World of Flowers - According to their Names, Sense and Meaning, Leipzig, 1869, Johanne Nathusius told of the rich fabric of religious flower names and symbolism in rural legends preserving them from generation to generation.

Britten and Holland's Dictionary of English Plant Names (1886) lists some 200 religious plant names - previously mostly excluded from English herbals and gardening books due to the anti-Marian bias prevalent at the time of their first printing during the English Reformation.

In his classic, The Flora of the Sacred Nativity, London, 1900, Oxford scholar Alfred Dowling reports the extensive religious lore and use of plants in pre-Reformation English celebrations of the feasts and seasons of the Church liturgical year - and provides documentation of their exclusion from English gardening books.

Judith Smith's The Mary Calendar, Ditchling, England, 1930 lists and describes 50 symbolic wildflowers of Our Lady according to their bloomtimes in the English countrysides, with some accompanying legends and lore.

Definitive documentation of some 1,000 religious plant namings in Germany, with parallels from all over Europe, is to be found in Heinrich Marzell's classic multi-volumed Deutsches Worterbuch Der Pflanzennamen, Leipzig, 1928-1967.

A greater number of Marian and other symbolic religious names were preserved and recorded in the Catholic cultural continuity of Bavaria and southern Germany than in England, where such continuity was interrupted by the Reformation. However, it was through niche plantings of the Flowers of Our Lady found in present-day English monastery gardens; through the listing of these flowers in Judith Smith's The Mary Calendar; and through the "Mary Gardens" of the Virgin surrounded by her symbolic flowers in religious art that Frances Crane Lillie was inspired to plant the first public United States Mary Garden, mother garden of the present day world-wide Mary Garden restoration, beside the Angelus Tower, donated by her, at St. Joseph's Parish Church, Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1932.

It is from this historical background and from the carrying forward of the Mary Garden restoration movement through the research and impetus of Mary's Gardens of Philadelphia, inaugurated in 1950, and now, since 1995, through the Mary's Gardens Internet website, that Mary's Flowers draws in its definitive historical documentation of the tradition of Marian flower symbolism - from Isaiah's prophecy of the Blossoming Rod of Jesse, to the planting of the Marys Garden of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

John S. Stokes Jr. Mary's Gardens Copyright Mary's Gardens 1999 Other Reviews of Mary's Flowers Publication of "Mary's Flowers" Announced Mary's Gardens Grow - University of Dayton Quarterly Marian Flower Treasury - QUEEN of All Hearts

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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