A look at flowers and their genealogy, history, folk art and archeology, with German language translations.
Lily-Tulips and the Rose of Sharon
I, SUSANNA LANDIS, made this in my youth.
The heavenly drama, the perfume of lilies,
Lovely shines the garden's glory -
In the beloved valley of roses,
The lily-tulip and the rose are often coupled in the literature and writings of the early Pennsylvania Germans, especially when referring to Christ. Stemming from verses found in the Song of Solomon, an Old Testament book often viewed as allegories for the church and Christ, this coupling of the two flowers made them interchangeable as symbol for Christ and Christian faith.
The lily-tulip is the flower most associated with the Pennsylvania Germans today. On gravestones, when shown as a full plant, they can have either the leaves and structure of a tulip or the attributes the Madonna or Annunciation lily, both members of the lily family. The Madonna or Annunciation lily began appearing in religous art in the late 1300s in Annunciation scenes, and after the Reformation in Germany and other Protestant areas, became a popular symbol for Christ and Christian faith in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. With the introduction of the tulip to Europe in 1500s (becoming quite a fashion craze at the time), artists and artisans began using the two flowers interchangeably, leading to much confusion when trying to determine which flower is being shown. Both were planted as a rather dead looking bulbs in the winter (as in Christ's death and burial), then came up and bloomed in the spring (Christ's resurrection). This planting and blooming theme was also taken as a representation of the planting of the word of Christ in a person, and it's blooming in faith and belief.
The lilies found on the Pennsylvania German gravestones where usually shown as two dimensional, three petaled flowers. Even in the instances of attempts at three dimensional representation, the front facing petals usually numbered three. Usage of groups of threes in Christian theology has long been associated with the Trinity (God the father (creator), God the son (redeemer) and God the Holy Spirit). These three facets of God provided a way and means to salvation, ensuring eternal life, a sought after goal each gravestone was designed to reflect.
In the Luther translation of the bible, the lily was the most mentioned flower, whereas the rose is not mentioned. All references to roses in English bibles such as the King James version are translated as flower or lily in the Luther version. For example:
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the lily (...rose in the King James Version). It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God. Isaiah 35, verses 1-2 (Luther Bible Translation)
In spite of this, the idea of the "rose" of Sharon persisted in the imagery and written word of the Pennsylvania Germans. Luther associated the rose with faith and used it on his personal seal.
Beginning in the 1820s the lily-tulip in its flat two dimensional, triune form and geometric compass roses disappeared from Pennsylvania German gravestone art as the Pennsylvania German gravestone symbols changed to those used by most Americans at this time. Prior to the 1820s, roses were often shown as geometric representations with little effort to portray an actual flower, although a few of the gravestone artists of the 1700s did show the rose leaves in a realistic manner.(see Roses, Serpent and the Sun Symbol at Manheim) Roses, depicted realistically and three dimensionally came back into favor around 1850 with children's graves showing rose buds and teenage and adult graves showing open roses. The adult stones tended to show roses in cut flower bouquets or wreaths, whereas young adults and children's gravestones would show a single flower branch with the stem cut to signify early death. Lilies showed up after 1850 in an abstract form as the fleur de lys, later becoming the calla lily which became popular after the 1880s.
I am the flower of Sharon, (...rose of Sharon King James version)
Matthew 6, 28-34
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Copyright ©1985-2005 Sandra J. Hardy. All rights reserved.
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