A look at flowers and their genealogy, history, folk art and archeology, with German language translations.
Flowers - The Popular Symbol
As a flower quickly dies,
A Flower is the Wisdom which was eternally with God.
Nennt mich eine Blume,
Lydia Fisher is my name,
Flowers were the most popular symbols used on Pennsylvania German gravestones, either as the major or as a secondary motif. In looking at the statistics page, if you combine the percentage of stones with flowers with those bearing a lily or a rose, you'll find roughly half the stones in this collection had some sort of flower as part of its symbol set. Flowers, as a group, were used heavily throughout the bible as a metaphor for man's brief lifespan and as a symbol of Christ (the lily and the rose being the flowers most often used to symbolize Christ). The German hymnals and poetry of the 1600 and 1700s, both in America and Europe, used this floral symbolism profusely.
Being both predominately farmers and avid gardeners, the Pennsylvania Germans enjoyed decorating the objects in their lives with pictures of flowers and they appear on the textiles, pottery, furniture and decorated documents such as birth and marriage certificates. Prior to 1820, their gravestone flower representations ranged from simple line drawings carved into fieldstone, to elaborate baroque creations carved by skilled stonemasons, and usually fell into four categories - lily-tulips, roses, unidentifiable, or compass star-flower. A popular way of portraying flowers was the compass flower. Because a circle encompassing a rayed figure was also used to denote a star, it is often difficult to determine if the symbol shown was a flower or a star.
After 1820, as the Pennsylvania Germans began to adopt the funerary symbols used by the general public of the day, the portrayal of flowers became realistic, three dimensional, and primarily centered around the theme of mourning or shortness of life. The lily-tulip and geometric roses fell out of favor.
Biblical References: (See Lily-Tulips and the Rose of Sharon for their Biblical references)
Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
Psalm 103, 14-16
For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
James 1, 10-12
But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
Romans 6, 4-6
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
1 Peter 1, 23-25
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
Copyright ©1985-2005 Sandra J. Hardy. All rights reserved.
Those more interested in the genealogy, history, folk art and archeology of the PA Germans flowers motif and German language translations, see the Links Page.