Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Roses: Myths and Legends

As we head towards the romance of Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be fun to look at some of the legends and meanings attached to roses and I’ve adapted this article I wrote several years ago. Of all flowers, the rose is perhaps the most symbolic, often representing purity, perfection, love, marriage or death. Its essence has been well used in love potions, perfumes and cosmetics.

According to a charming medieval legend, the first roses made a miraculous appearance in order to save a ‘fayre maiden’ who had been sentenced to death by burning. Falsely accused, she prayed for deliverance and the fire subsequently went out. The logs which were already burning became red roses and the unlit logs became white roses.

In Christianity, the rose is the symbol of the Virgin Mary and is also often attributed to various saints, such as St Dorothea, who carries a basket of roses. The rosary, used in Catholicism, was once made from wild rose hips strung together.

Other myths attached to roses
  • In past times, ladies often used rose petals to make a face pack to help get rid of wrinkles 
  • It was thought that rose petals in wine avoided drunkenness
  • It was good luck to throw rose leaves over a grave
  • In Roman times, rose petals were valuable currency

Sub Rosa

Sometimes an emblem of silence, sub rosa (under the rose) means keeping a secret. It was believed that Cupid gave Harpocrates, the god of silence, a rose to bribe him not betray the many amorous encounters of Venus. The rose thus became the emblem of silence and was eventually sculpted on the ceilings of banquet rooms, still seen today. At the dinner table, all confidences spoken under this were held sacred. In the 16th century, the rose was also placed over confessionals to signify absolute confidentiality.

Rose Windows

The famous stained glass rose windows depicted on many cathedrals and churches originated mainly in 13th century France and are often a symbol of eternity. Their perfect geometry was regarded as being similar to the eastern mandala, a meditative symbol signifying the paths to enlightenment and the human desire for wholeness.

In another post, I’ll look at the meaning of the different roses according to their colour!



Rae Cowie said...

I've learnt so much from this post, Rosemary. I'd no idea there were so many myths and stories connected to the rose. An interesting flower. : )

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks very much for your lovely comment, Rae - appreciate you dropping in!

Patsy said...

Roses are also used to flavour Turkish delight. Yum.

Julia Thorley said...

I don't like the smell of roses. They remind me of a traumatic hospital experience. (I'll spare you the gory details!) Mind you, if you think they'll shift my wrinkles...

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Yes they are indeed, Patsy - yummy!

That's a very good example of how scents are so closely linked to memories, Julie - you should use it in a short story!

Angela Barton said...

Hello Rosemary

I saw your book in Romance Matters and gave a sigh. You are living my dream!!
Your post took me back to childhood. I'd collect rose petals in a jam jar, add a little water and leave it a week in my bedroom. After a week, I'd use it like perfume. Mind you, for some reason, roses smelt so much better in the olden days!
Take care and happy writing.
Angela xxx

May I ask a favour, and this is something I've never asked anyone before. I have sent three chapters to a publisher and they have asked for my full manuscript. It may come to nothing but they asked for my blog address. Please could you leave a short message, or even a 'hello' on my blog, so it looks like people actually read it!! You are already a star and frequently leave comments for so many writers, but I have a suspicion they will check my latest post. My stats say hundreds read it, but they don't leave comments. I'd be so grateful. Thank you. xx

Joanna said...

What an interesting post, Rosemary. I love roses, especially orange and mauve, and the scent reminds me of being a child and walking to the shops with my mother. We must have passed some rose bushes, but I don't remember seeing them. Their perfume takes me straight back to holding her hand in the sunshine. xxx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Ange - thanks for your lovely comment and memory of roses! Yes, of course I'll pop over to your blog. I used to have it at the side of mine so I knew when you'd posted - must check if it's still there and if not, I'll add it. I lost the whole blog list a while back and was trying to remember who to add again.

Thanks, Joanna - that's another lovely memory you have! Have you ever used it in a story yet?

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Meant to say all the very best with your submission, Angela!