Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Rose between Sacred and Profane

"A rose is a perennial plant of the genus Rosa, within the family Rosaceae. There are over 100 species. They form a group of erect shrubs, and climbing or trailing plants, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Flowers are large and showy, in a number of colours from white through yellows and reds. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Species, cultivars and hybrids are all widely grown for their beauty and fragrance. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach 7 meters in height. Species from different parts of the world easily hybridize, which has given rise to the many types of garden roses.

The name rose comes from French, itself from Latin, rosa, which was borrowed from Oscan, from Greek ρόδιόν rhodion (Aeolic υρόδιόν wrodion), from Old Persian wurdi "flower" (cf.Avest. warda, Sogdian ward, Parthian wâr)" (Wikipedia).

This is the official and arid version, in which the unusual beauty of flowers and the divine fragrance, that made the rose the most loved and cultivated plant on Earth, are not really valued.


Its genesis on Earth was explicated through numerous legends: it was created by Chloris, the goddess of flowers, from an enchanting nymphy's body, all the gods contributing to its birth with a gift (Dionysos - the intoxicating scent, the Three Graces - cheerfulness, brilliance and charm, Ares - the protecting thorns); others say that emerged in the same time with Aphrodytis from the sea foam, covering her as a garland, becoming one of her symbols, or even that it was born from Cupid's smile, and its thorns are his metamorphosed arrows...

It seems that even the Hindu gods had once a little dispute about establishing the most beautiful flower on Earth: Vishnu loved the rose, but Brahma, who never saw a flower like this, preferred the lotus, which he considered to be the flower of perfection and spiritual transcending. At its sight though, Brahma had to admit that no other flower could be more beautiful.

In the Arab tradition, the first rose was brought to life by the sunshine radiance in the Great Garden of Persia, from where expanded on the entire Earth, as a symbol of fertility, beauty and purity.

Even the thorns created controversies, the Romanian legends suggesting that those were Satan's evil work, as an attempt to the perfection of GOD's creation, the flower itself, belief inspired probably by Zarathustra, who said that the rose is the symbol of innocence, and its thorns appeared when the spirit of evil, Ahriman, made his entrance into the world for the first time. The Flower of Saint-Exupery's Little Prince covered herself with thorns to protect her ingenuity and beauty from the bad world...

Their colour also generated many legends. It says that the rose was only white at the beginning and became red in the moment when Jupiter surprised Venus in the act of bathing in a lake surrounded by roses. What came next, nobody could tell... :)

Aisha, prophet Mohamed's wife, is the one who coloured the roses in yellow, as a sign of her infidelity...

One of the most beautiful legend is of Persian origin, and inspired Oscar Wilde in "The Nightingale and the Rose": a nightingale, in love with a white rose, embraced the last so closely that the thorns stabbed her little heart and her blood coloured the rose in red - a symbol of passionate, destructive love.


The Rose, as a symbol of both sacred and profane love, expresses probably all the possible overtones of this feeling: romance, passion, sensuality, jealousy, suffering, tragedy, but also purity, the power to transcend the material world, the divine love. It is considered a mystic symbol of the heart, but also the center of the cosmic wheel.

In antiquity, the rose was the funerary flower of women, the Romans used to put crushed flowers on their wives' tombs, as a symbol of a broken heart. There was also a celebration of the entire community to commemorate the ancients' day - the name of this celebration was Rosalia, because the rose was the flower of the spirits; in Romania of our time, this celebration is named Rusaliile and has the same meaning, being inherited from theirs ancestors, the Romans.

Beside the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Celts too knew the significance of this flower. At the Celts, for example, a bush of white roses put on the grave of the beloved ones, symbolized the peace and the happiness in the after life.

In Italy, long time ago, the rose was "the flower of proposals": the lover used to scatter rose petals in front of his beloved's house; if the petals were swept away, the proposal was rejected; if the petals were being left in front of the house for the next day, the two were then engaged.

The Church accepted reluctantly the rose among the Christian symbols, because it was also used in the pagan rituals, especially for celebrating the Love Gods. But, because of its thorns, the rose became a symbol of the Passion of Christ, especially the red rose signifies the martyrdom and the life after death. The white rose is dedicated to Virgin Mary, named also ROSA MYSTICA by the Catholics. She is usually represented in the Catholic iconography having a rose on the heart's place. This rose is a symbol for the beauty and purity of Virgin Mary, and the thorns - the suffering endured at the death of Her Son.
There is also a strange significance - confidentiality, secret, silence- which dates back in Roman times. The Romans used to participate to banquets, a good pretext also for secret political meetings where alliances and plots were arranged. At these banquets, the rose played an important role: rose petals were cast everywhere, there was rose water flowing in the fountains and all the guests adorned themselves with roses. There were secret chambers for political meetings, covered with roses. Everything that was discussed there was confidential, so the collocation "sub rosa" (under roses) appeared, with the meaning of SECRET.

In the Christian Middle Age, Pope Leon al IX-lea, in XI century, initiated the ceremony of the golden rose, sent every year to an European monarch as a sign of esteem and reward for his deeds appreciated by the Holy Church.

In Islam, the rose is dedicated to Mohamed and it's the symbol of Paradise, the divine garden; for the mystic Sufism believers, the rose is associated with pleasure, but also with suffering, because of its thorns.

In China, the roses symbolize youth and the four seasons, and in alchemy, the rose is the symbol of the spirit's flourishing.

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