Madonna and Child Amidst the Flowers
It’s that time of the year again! As I type this blog up, I am drinking a homemade peppermint mocha in my child-safe coffee tumbler, listening to Christmas songs, and contemplating the next Christmas-themed project for the day. Should I make more Christmas cookies? Some more crochet dolls for the nativity set? The Christmas tree skirt so we can get a Christmas tree soon? Finish up Christmas stockings?
There’s one thing that I haven’t done yet… Christmas cards! Apparently, there’s no picture from this year that consists of just the five of us all smiling. And so, we’ll probably have a goofy photoshoot tonight so I can finish up that huge project. (And trust me: our extended families are pretty sizable, so it’s quite a big project!)
But! When I do send them out, I’ll definitely be putting a nice Christmas stamp on it!
Which brings me to the featured artwork… this one!
If this artwork looks familiar, it’s because you might have seen it used in this stamp, which is the religious art picture chosen for the Christmas stamps for 2018.
In the announcement of this stamp, the USPS said in this press conference:
“Today, we dedicate a Christmas stamp that features one of the most revered images in the world, Madonna embracing her infant son, Jesus,” said U.S. Postal Service Customer Experience Vice President Kelly Sigmon. “Through the years, the Postal Service has selected stamp artwork that touches on various aspects of the holiday and its significance to our customers, and this year we continue that tradition with the Madonna and Child by Bachiacca Forever stamp.”
Isn’t that wonderful? We get the chance to evangelize just by sending out Christmas cards!
This is a lovely work with lots of cool parts about it, but I want to focus on the flowers. You see, Renaissance artists loved putting flowers all over images of the Madonna and Child. In this particular picture, the Christ Child is even holding a tiny bouquet of flowers in his fists!
But! But, these flowers were not just randomly chosen! All of the flowers had a special meaning and symbolism in Christian tradition.
The flowers used in this particular painting were jasmine, cornflower, rose, and sweetbriar. So what did each flower symbolize?
My family had a jasmine plant when we were growing up, and let me tell you. Every spring, it bloomed, and when it did, you would walk into the garden intoxicated with the loveliness of the smell. To this day, the jasmine is one of the prettiest smelling plants that I know!
So it should come as no surprise that the jasmine flower represents the sweetness of the Virgin Mary, while the white color represents her perpetual virginity!
Cornflower are named such because they’re the flower that tends to grow in fields of corn! If you’re American (like me) you’ll have an imagine of fields of corn swaying in the wind, a la Field of Dreams, but actually, corn in this case refers to field of grain. So, when you think of corn, think of fields of grain.
Because cornflowers are so much associated with grain, they were quick to be associated with Christ in Christian symbolism. After all, did He not preach about grain in His parables?
Cornflowers were believed to be able to an antidote for snakes based on an old Greek myth in which the centaur, Chiron, healed himself with the cornflower after he was struck with a poisoned arrow. While that story faded away into obscurity, the association with the cornflower and the snake lingered on. And so, it became popular to associate Christ with the cornflower to symbolize Christ’s victory over the devil using this tiny blue flower.
Where to even begin with this flower? The rose has so much rich meaning in our Christian heritage!
Mary is often associated with the rose, and is often depicted in art adorned with roses. The Rosary is named after this lovely flower. But so is Jesus, and the red rose in particular has come to signify His Passion, with its thorns and blood red color. Many saints, such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, have had dreams in which they are offered roses of martyrdom. St. Therese, The Little Flower, even is associated with the rose and many people have viewed the roses that pop into their life as signal graces from her!
St. Ambrose once preached about the rose, in particular how the rose came to have thorns. Before the Fall in which Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, the rose had no thorns. But when they were expelled, the rose grew thorns. These thorns were to remind us of Original Sin and that we are in desperate need of grace, while the beauty and scent of the rose are a reminders of Paradise and the love that God has for us.
And so, when we see roses in art decorating the images of the Christ Child, we remember particularly that Christ has come to take away our sins and allow us into Paradise.
The rose is a domesticated plant. But the primrose is the wild version, with its five petals. And so, the primrose is symbolic for Christ, with His Five Wounds that He received in His Passion.
More on Flowers and Wonder
In our modern era, we tend to think of flowers only being a feminine thing. But, that’s not the way it has been in other times. Even Jesus preached about flowers!
27Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. 28If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
In our world of modern conveniences and luxuries, we forget that in a world without our modern conveniences — such as cheap, scented soap — the flower is indeed a marvelous thing that is worth glorifying in.
So, as we enter into this new year, let us open our eyes to the good things that God has given us — even if they are as simple as a flower — and rejoice always in the wonder of God!