The Roman Catholic Church appears to have selected the rose as her emblem; and in her liturgies terms the Virgin Mary "Rosa Mystica," on which account the Pope carries a golden rose in his hand when he goes to celebrate mass, in St. Peter's, on Rose Sunday (Domenica di Rosa) or mid-lent. Durandus describes this custom as typical of two things: namely, of the interval of rejoicing which the church allowed and even desired, at this period of the fast; for the "colour of the rose," he continues, signifies charity; the perfume, joy; and the flavour, satiety; for the rose above all flowers delights by its colour, refreshes by its perfume, and comforts by its flavour:"* and in another point of view it is," he asserts the "flower of the field," spoken of in the Psalms; an expression which he interprets to mean the flower, pre-eminently, of flowers, or holy of holies, resembling thus, he says, his own - the Roman - Church. This golden rose is afterwards given by the Pope to some potentate whom he wishes to favour or propitiate.
* See Soane's "New Curiosities of Literature".
I will not enter into the mysteries of the Rosi-crucian philosophy, or even into the symbolical meanings of the rosy cross, the origin of which is involved in so much doubt; but will pass on to the singular fact that one of the female deities of those truest lovers of flowers, the ancient Mexicans, was called Sochiquetzal, that is, the lifting up of roses. This is the goddess in whom the Spaniards considered that they found the representative parallel of the Virgin Mary. Amongst the same people, the "mother of all living" was said to have committed the first sin by eating roses.*
It is not astonishing that so beautiful a flower should, in all ages, have been the favourite of the poet, and the subject of so many graceful allusions and glowing metaphors; there appears to be no beautiful thing upon the earth which has not, at some time been likened to the rose. It has been called by Sappho:
"Sweetest child of weeping morning, Gem, the breast of earth adorning, Eye of flowerets, glow of lawns, Bud of beauty, nursed by dawns".
Anacreon alludes to the quality by which,
* " When at length, in pale decline Its florid beauties fade and die;
* See "Antiquities of Mexico" quoted by Soane.
Fresh as in youth, its balmy breath Diffuses odour even in death:" and terms it,
* * " The flower of flowers Whose breath perfumes Olympus' bowers;" exclaiming:
* * "Showers of roses bring, And shed them round me while I sing".
He also rapturously addresses it in the lines so well known as rendered by Moore, in the forty-fourth ode; but of which, however, the old English translation gives a far more musical, even though it be a less classical, version:
"The rose is the honour and beautie of floures, The rose is the care and the loue of the springe, The rose is the pleasure of th' heavenly powers, The boy of faire Venus, Cythera's darlinge Dothe wrap his head rounde with garlands of rose, "When to the dance of the graces he goes".
This was a translation made in an age when,
"With rose and swete flores Was strawed halles and bouris:" when, as old Thomas Campion sings: *
* * " Flora robbed her bowers To befriend this place with flowers;
Strow about! strow about!
Divers, divers flowers affect, For some private dear respect;
Strow about! strow about!
* In "The Night and the Hours," a masque.
But he's none of Flora's friend That will not the rose commend.
Strow about! strow about!"
In old days the phrase "you have spoken roses," - the equivalent of the graceful French expressions "dire des fleurettes" - was the sweetest praise which could fall on the ear of the poet, or the orator; and perhaps, too, on an humbler ear which, in the quietude of its own home listened to the gentle approbation of some loved and dearly cherished voice. "Conter des fleurettes," too, signifies to "make pretty speeches," or " to play the agreeable".
Before quitting roses in connection with poets, we must not omit a passing glance at the fabled love of the nightingale for the flower;
"The young rose I give thee, so dewy and bright, Was the floweret beloved by the bird of the night; Who oft, by the moon, o'er her blushes hath hung, And thrilled every leaf, with the wild lay he sung;" says Moore; while Mesihi, the Hindu poet, as translated by Sir William Jones, thus alludes to the idea:
"Come charming maid, and hear thy poet sing, Thyself the rose, and he the bird of spring".
One Persian poet declares, that, "when roses fade, when the charms of the bower are passed away, the fond tale of the nightingale no longer animates the scene." And another exclaims:
* * "The rose o'er crag and vale, Sultana of the nightingale.
The maid for whom his melody,
His thousand songs are heard on high,
Blooms, blushing, to her lover's tale".
In short, they appear never to tire of allusions to the love of the bird for the blossom, and represent it as singing most sweetly when pressing a rose-thorn into its breast.
The rose was dedicated to Venus, under the supposition, that when Minerva sprang from the brain of Jupiter, and Venus simultaneously rose from the waves, the earth brought forth this flower - so much more beautiful than anything which had been before produced, to celebrate the double birth; and therefore, says Gerarde, the Easterns "can by no means endure to see the leaves of roses fall to the grounde." This original rose was supposed to have been white, and the fable continues, that the first red rose was that, upon whose thorns Venus trod when flying to succour the wounded Adonis.
"She treads upon a thorned rose, And while the wound with crimson flows The snowy flow'ret feels her blood, and blushes".
Far more beautiful, however, are the various Eastern versions of the tale, one of which relates, that, Eve, gazing in admiration on the white rose of Paradise, laid her rosy lips on its snowy blossom, which, receiving the impression of their colour, became the parent of all future red roses; while another, as related by Sir John Mandeville, affirms; that the rose never existed at all in the Garden of Eden, but that the first of the species ever seen, sprang up in a field called Floridus, on the eastern side of Ephrata. For there, a fair maid, unjustly accused, had been condemned to be burned; when, on the faggots being lighted, she prayed aloud that God would, "as truly as she was not guilty," make it known to all. At the conclusion of her prayer, she walked, in the full confidence of innocence, into the midst of the burning pile; upon which, the raging fire was immediately extinguished, and the faggots as suddenly turned to roses; those which were flaming, becoming red roses, while such as were not yet kindled, appeared as white ones.
According to Basil, the rose was created without thorns, which afterwards appeared on the plant in consequence of the wickedness of men; as the Welsh believe that bees were white in Paradise and acquired their present hue through the same cause; naively adding, that when driven out of the Garden of Eden, they became brown, from the wickedness of the inhabitants of every land over which they flew, until they reached Wales, where they retained their primitive colour for several centuries!