Friday, June 24, 2011

The Magic Rose

You love the roses - so do I. I wish 
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain 
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not? 
Then all the valley would be pink and white 
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be 
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once! 

George Eliot. (1819-1880)

The rose is a symbol of love and beauty, created by a divine wonder. Says mythology. When the love goddess Aphrodite rose from the sea, the sea foam on her body changed into roses. The gods of the Olympus sprayed nectare upon the roses to give them a lovely scent, the perfume of the gods.  Aphrodite's lover Adonis was killed by the war god Ares, and by his body grew up dark red roses, a new rose for each drop of blood. The dark red rose became a symbol of the invigorating blood. The legend of the white rose takes place in the Garden of Eden, where the Creator let plant white lilies and roses. The rose was as white as the lily, but it suddenly changed colour, ashamed of Eve's disobedience. It became a red rose, while the lily was still white, for it had noticed nothing. The yellow rose has its own legend, giving it a mark of duplicity. Mohammed found out that his favourite wife Ayescha was unfaithful to him and the angel Gabriel gave him a piece of advice. While Ayescha sat  by the castle-well with a beautiful white rose branch Mohammed told her to dip the rose branch into the water. She laughed and obeyed, and when she lifted up the branch, the roses had achieved a pretty saffron-yellow colour. This was a proof of her infidelity. But the yellow rose is not less interesting because of this. Yellow is  the colour of  lots of beautiful flowers. And it is the colour of the sun!

The expression "sub rosa" means "under the rose". It origins from the ancient Roman feasts, where it was a custom to place a rose above the guest as a sign of confidentiality, if the host did not want the conversation to be told elsewhere. In the Danish castle Frederiksborg and in Chr. 7.'s palace at Amalienborg is a hall named the Rose, where the court had their meals. What was said here was not allowed to be spread in town. The conversations were confidential, told "sub rosa". The rose as a symbol of silence and confidentially comes from the world of the gods. When Amor, son of the Roman love goddess Venus ( Greek Aphrodite), wanted his exploits to be secret he gave a rose to the god of silence Harpocrates.

The rose was always a part of culture of man, and far back in time culture bears witness to the existence of the rose. The cultural power center of Europe was in prehistoric time around the rivers Euphrat and Tigris in Mesopotamia (Iraque), along the coasts of Syria and along the river Nile in Egypt. One of the earliest written sources about roses was found during excavations of the royal graves in Ur, a city by the river Euphrat. Upon burnt clay tablets were inscriptions, which tells about king Sargon 1., who lived ab. 2300 BC. From a war expedition he brought vines, figs and rose-trees back to his country. He was a mighty conqueror, who created a giant kingdom from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

In China was the rose mentioned in connection to the emporial gardens in Peking in year 2700 BC. Between China and Europe were large desolate tracts with mountains and deserts, which prevented any connection between the countries. Milleniums passed before the Chinese roses met the European, and the meeting had a decisive importance to the further fate of the rose.The rose-migration between the countries are known via historical handing over and finds of things like coins and weapons with depictions of roses. The rose followed the ruling class through history and was a part of its life style and symbolism. The earliest known depiction of a rose is found at the palace Knossos on the island Crete. It is depicted upon the famous frescoe "The Blue Bird" from 1600 BC. The Greek historian Herodot describes that the rich king Midas brought the rose with him from Asia Minor ab. 700 BC,  when he travelled to Macedonia. This rose was a rose with 60 petals, possibly a Rosa Gallica. King Midas' grave is in the city Yassihöyör in Asia Minor, to day Turkey.

In Greece became the rose an essential part of the culture in the years 800-700 BC, and the Greek culture was dominating in that period, while the Roman empire was beginning to grow into its golden age from ab. 200 BC till 400 AD. In the Roman Empire developed a comprehensive cultivation and use of roses with its source in Mid-Italy around Paestum, where many garden centres had an intensive rose-production, probably of Rosa Damascena. The rose had soon its place in all gardens by the wealthy Romans and played a large role in almost all aspects of life. The rose was also a symbol of victory, and when the triumphant soldiers returned home after their victories, where the borders of the Empire moved both to the east and to the west, the victory was celebrated with roses and rose garlands. In the Roman temples was the rose used in worship of the gods and various gods were honoured with rose garlands and - festoons. The rose was used in medicine, food and cosmetics.

In Roman festivities were used large amounts of roses. The Romans even cleared corn fields and orchards to give place for rose cultivation. In the Roman emperor Nero's period (54-68) was it a common occassion to let rose leaves fall down over the guests during the banquets. Nero had built a large palace, where the dining halls were equipped with coffer-ceilings made in ivory. The coffers could be opened and let the rose petals fall down like fine scenting snow. The emperor Heliogabalus (218-22) let such a huge amount of rose petals fall down over the guests that some got choked!  But the Romans wanted more - they sent for roses from Egypt, where the flowers bloomed two months earlier. The roses came to Italy by boat, a trip of six weeks, and were kept in large clay pots filled with chalk. The Romans were later capable of cultivating  the rose themselves, since cultivation in greenhouses became common in the period after AD.

Almost contemporary with the Roman Empire was a blooming culture in China, especially in the Chou-dynasty from 1122 till 249 BC. The roses were widespread and attracted much attention. The philosopher Konfutze (551-479 BC) informs that there were 600 books about roses at the  library of the Chinese emperor. China was already able to extract rose oil at that time, and only the very highest people were allowed to use it. The building of the Chinese wall during the Han-dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) put a break on the contact to the outside world for a long period.

After the fall of the Roman Empire the Roman Church condemned the rose. It was a heathen flower and was still closely connected to the wild life of the rich Romans, La Dolce Vita - and the rose was considered a symbol of vice and unchastity. But the church discovered that it was not that easy to change people's minds - and the church was clever. What can we do? The Roman church adapted the symbolism of the rose to the church. Aphrodite's holy flower became Virgin Mary's flower. The white rose became a symbol of the chastity of the Virgin and the red rose a symbol of the blood of Christ. In this way were many other heathen flowers adapted. The rose was slowly accepted by the Church. The rose-motif achieved a place in the church room, like the famous rosetta-windows in the cathedrals of Reims and Chartres in France.

Pope Leo 9. instituted a distinction "The Golden Rose" in 1049. It was meant especially for virtous women, but later was the distinction given to the great men of the Catholic church and to princes. It is not known, if this change of custom was caused by a regrettable lack of virtous women!  "The Golden Rose" was shaped as a rose branch with golden leaves. Upon the leaves were small diamonds formed like dewdrops and perfumed flowers. The rose was now everywhere in a church-connection. The rosary was introduced. Roses were plant in the gardens of the monasteries, and in each medieval monastery was at least one monk, who knew how to use the roses in medicine.
France was a rose center in the Middle Ages and the rose was poetry itself in France -like in the medieval French poem Roman de la Rose. There were centers for rose cultivation in the cities Rouen and Provins. The expression provinsroses, which is used for the Rosa gallica "officinalis" origins from that time. The Gallica rose was plant in large amounts and used for fabrication of rosewater, perfumes and potpourri. The rose came to England already in the Roman period, but the first spread was in the 1100s, when English crusaders came back from far away. The crusaders in general brought new rose sorts home to  England and Europe from Palestine, and it seems that the Damascene-rose came to Europe the second time in 1270 from the Holy land.

The War of the Roses in the 1400s implicated the red and the white rose. A throne feud arose between the two royal houses York and Lancaster, and it lasted for 30 years. Both royal houses had a rose in their emblem, the house of York the white Rose Alba and the house of Lancaster the red Damascene rose. It is told that when the war ended, a gardener, Miellez, contributed to the reconciliation by crossing the white and the red rose, the result being the red-white-striped Albarose "York and Lancaster".

Another white Albarose was implicated in English politics in the 1600s, the "Maxima" rose. A political movement wanted to get the Catholic line of the royal house of Stuart back into power. The background was that James 2. of England had to take flight to France. The members of the movement were named the Jacobins. They wore a blue head-gear and had an emblem with the white Albarose, now called the Jacobins Rose. Although they did not suceed,  the Jacobin movement has survived in folk songs, poetry, tales and in the Albarose. The Jacobins Rose is celebrated each year on 10. June, the birthdate of James 3.

The monks introduced the rose to Scandinavia. The roses were used in the monasteries as both decorative  and medicinal plants. The rose hips were useful with their rich content of C-vitamin, but also leaves and flowers were useful for medicine. The first roses came to Denmark in the last half of the 1100s. They were mentioned for the first time in a herbal book by the physician Henrik Harpestreng from the first half of the 1200s. He says:" The rose is a noble and useful flower, and it has a pleasant scent. It has these virtues that its oil, smeared upon weak and swollen eyes, removes the pain; and if a cloth is wet in it and bound around the head, then it removes all pain  and gives a good sleep". The old folksongs bring witness about the beginning importance of the rose in Denmark. The tradition of folksongs came from England in the 1200s. The name rose was inserted in many new Danish words, and the roses were from now on visible in the Danish life.

To collect roses was a fashion in the 1500s for princes, aristocracy and rich people. "Rosaries" cropped up everywhere and gave rose admirers a possibility of studying the rose sorts in a thorough manner. The rose was much used as a motif in the art of painting by Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli and Jan Brueghel. Rubens loved roses passionately; he painted well-fed persons surrounded by heavy roses. In Holland started a rose processing in the 1500s-1600s, but when the Baroque arrived in the 1600s, the rose fancy declined. The buxbom fashion did not like stiff branches from rose bushes sticking up above the well-broomed hedges, but in the 1700s came the beautiful English landscape garden, which gave room for the rose as the queen among flowers in lovely gardens, which were copied all over the world. The rose was not only a queen in the garden. Almost every poet had a poem about the rose. Like Robert Burn's lovely poem "My Love is like a Red Red Rose" ..... there is a countless number of poetry about roses - worth a study.      

Josephine, Napoleon's wife and empress, created some rose history in the beginning of the 1800s. She laid out splendid rose gardens by the castle Malmaison west of Paris. Malmaison became her refuge from 1809, and she lived there until her death in 1814. She had over 150 different Gallica cultivars in her collection. Josephine was a devoted art lover, and she had a close connection to the great flower painter Pierre Joseph Redoute. He painted a large number of Malmaison roses on her request, and the brilliant watercolours still exist and are reprinted. Zar Alexander 1. of Russia visited her at Malmaison in 1814 to give her his support, and it is told that Josephine gave him a rose branch saying:
"C'est une souvenir de Malmaison". And the rose still exists with the name "Souvenir de Malmaison". Josephine caught a cold while showing the Zar her famous gardens and died of pneunomia on 29. May 1814.

For much more than two thousand years the rose was named a queen among flowers. That old queen is still alive - and she's still beautiful and magic.

Remember to smell the roses.

Source: "Roser", hortonom og landskabsarkitekt Mette Østergaard, Politikens store bog om roser, Det Danske Haveselskab.

photo of roses in Boller Castle Park, Horsens; in Korselitze Park, Falster;in Gråsten Castle Park, Sønderjylland and at Esrom Kloster: grethe bachmann
copy of photo: Rosetta Window, Chartres
copy of photo, detail of water-colour by Pierre Joseph Redoute.


Teresa Evangeline said...

What a wonderful history of roses. I had not known what "sub rosa" meant, so thank you for that enlightening information.

had to pause at the "regrettable lack of "virtuous women." :) It made me stop and think, why aren't men lacking in virtue? Ah, I suppose we have the church to thank for that. I have to laugh at what they can't prevent they incorporate into their theology. :)

Lovely photos. There are so many beautiful varieties. I still prefer the white rose, it's subtle eloquence.

Thank you for this interesting post.

Thyra said...

Hej Teresa! Thank you very much for your interest. I think it's funny this thing with the virtous women and how the Church changed the flowers from heathen to holy. But they pacified people.
I love the rose. The scent of roses is the best I know!! rose soap, rose lotion etc. It's so refreshing.
Have a nice week-end Teresa.
Cheers from a virtous woman! ´)