This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
"F. R. W.," West Philadelphia: "Since reading your interesting work on the ' Flowers and Ferns of the United States,' I have taken a great interest in the derivation of plant names. Interested in Veronica, I see Dr. Darlington says the name has been derived ' from the Romish Saint of that name.' Veronica, I believe, was the name of the woman who gave a handkerchief to wipe the face of the Saviour on his toilsome journey with the cross to Calvary. In what way is this pretty blue flower connected with this history?"
Our correspondent is mistaken. The name of the woman in question is not known. It is the handkerchief itself which is called Veronica. The word is derived from vera and iconica, that is to say, " the true image," and the handkerchief which is preserved in the church of St. Peter's at Rome, is said to have, traced in blood, the true image of the face of the Saviour thereon. The earliest history of this handkerchief reaches back only to 1143. The "Romish Saint" Veronica, was a Milanese woman, who died in 1497, and was not in the published list of Saints of the Romish Church till 1749; while the name of Veronica had been given to this plant long before, and possibly before the Veronica, or handkerchief, had become famous.
So recently has this Saint been on the calendar, that the monks who dedicated flowers to various Saints, never thought of her; and the Veronica flower itselt, is dedicated to Saint Barbatus, a bishop of Benevento in Italy, who flourished in the seventh century.
Dodonaeus who wrote in 1587, says, that the original name of the plant was Betonica, and that Veronica was a name given it in comparatively recent times. But this carries it back perhaps to 1200 or 1300.
No one in history seems to know why it was so named. It seems to us just as likely to have been a corruption of Betonica to Veronica, as to have any other origin; and this seems the more likely, as Dodonaeus himself notes that in his time, the Bohemians called it "Weronyka".
At any rate, it strikes us that the connection of the plant with "the Romish Saint of that name," is but a wild guess, which even so scholarly and usually accurate an author as Darlington, may occasionally be led to hazard.
Dr. H. J. Purdy, Seneca Falls, N. Y., says: "Are not you and " F. R. W." of West Philadelphia, both at fault in regard to the origin of the name Veronica?
"There was a Saint Veronica who was the mother of the Emperor Constantine. She was very kindly disposed toward Christianity, and it was mainly through her influence that it was raised to a position of respectability, and adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire. It was she who had that wonderful vision in the fifth century, which not only led to the discovery of the "True Cross " in a cavern in the rocks where it had lain for four hundred years, but she was able to distinguish it from those of the two thieves which were found at that same time and place. She had many other minor visions at various times, when it was necessary to establish any disputed point in the doctrines of Christianity. I have been in the habit of claiming that the plant Veronica was named after her, but if I am mistaken, I will be willing to take it all back".
[Our friend is surely off in his historical studies. The discovery of the crosses was long before the fifth century. These were made by Helena, the divorced wife - Zosimus says, mistress - of Con-stantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine the Great. She died in 326, at the age of 80, the same year of the discovery. There is no record of her working any miracle, and it was not through her prayers, but the prayer of a bishop, that the one cross out of three was made to cure a sick lady when it simply touched her. Constantine himself only made an open profession of Christianity in 324, though in his speech to the Senate, as we read in Caussiu's Holy Court, he "thought sometime before to have discovered what I was, but considerations of state stayed me." His mother Helena made open profession about the same time, so that she had but two years of a very advanced age, to "raise to a high position " the faith she had embraced. We know of nothing whatever in history to connect St. Helena with the discovery of the handkerchief, much less that the name Veronica has ever been given to her.
Moreover, there is this additional reason why it is very unlikely that the plant Veronica was so named after any individual. As already noted, the naming of plants in connection with Saints or other individuals, is a comparatively modern practice. Between this and the times of Ovid and other great plant namers, there is a wide space of time when nothing was done; but, as we have seen, this name was in existence long before the modern era. We still think Veronica is but a corruption of Betonica - Ed. G. M].