The Liturgy of Flowers in a Mary Garden
Andrea Olivia Florendo, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Are you listening to flowers? A rose, a lily, sweet violet and a pansy are pleasingly decorative to the casual observer. But in a Mary Garden, flowers are part of a rich visual symbology. The name Mary Garden has its recorded origins in prints, illustrations and then paintings of the Virgin and Child in an enclosed garden of symbolical flowers. The connection between Mary and the garden proceeds via the iconography of the enclosed garden in the Song of Songs, in its pre-figuration of the Incarnation. This medieval image of paradise is an allegory of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and virginity.
The flower imagery of Mary dating back to the Wisdom and Prophetic Books of the Bible, carries a wealth of meanings not only distilled from the Scriptures but from the writings of Church Fathers, doctors, saints and the pious laity. The massive popularity of this theme in the thirteenth century generated piety, and inspired medieval and renaissance artists in creating pictures of Mary Gardens, and establishing a Maryflower florilegium. Flowers drawn from the traditional repertoire of Christian orientation adorned Illuminated Manuscripts, Books of Hours, Psalters, Breviaries, as well.
In turn, these botanical symbols and the mystical writings employing them inspired Marian devotions when the laity encountered the floral mosaic of the Virgin’s life. Botanical motifs and their connotations of Mary’s virtues and attributes, help on understanding the historical, cultural and liturgical content of a Marian doctrine. Amid the host of sentiments which gathered around the figure of the Virgin, Christ makes a special appearance as the true flower of humanity. Christ, in entering the womb of Mary , became man; we, in becoming children of Mary , become God-like. But the Word Incarnate and the baptized enjoy the same paradise: the Mary Garden.