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Author Topic: The 'Easter Lily' tradition  (Read 1463 times) Average Rating: 0
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EkhristosAnesti
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« on: June 25, 2008, 07:44:25 PM »

Dear all,

I was wandering if anyone knew anything about the historical origins of the Easter Lily tradition and how the lily flower in general came to be associated with the Resurrection of our Lord. I've exhausted my resources, in addition to the internet, trying to find an answer but to no avail. The general impression I am getting is that it is a late Roman Catholic tradition (not that there's anything wrong with that!) but i'm hoping for someone to bring to my attention something more concrete on the matter.

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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2008, 07:48:58 PM »

The third segment of the webpage provides some insight:

Texas A&M Website on the Easter Lily
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EkhristosAnesti
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2008, 08:00:28 PM »

Thanks! I actually already considered that website in the course of my futile online search; the problem is that it only makes general allusions to what "tradition" tells us:

Quote
Often called the "white-robed apostles of hope," lilies were found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ's agony. Tradition has it that the beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and deep distress. Churches continue this tradition at Easter time by banking their alters and surrounding their crosses with masses of Easter Lilies, to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and hope of life everlasting.

And here:

Quote
The legend is told that when the Virgin Mary's tomb was visited three days after her burial, it was found empty save for bunches of majestic white lilies. Early writers and artists made the lily the emblem of the Annunciation, the Resurrection of the Virgin: the pure white petals signifying her spotless body and the golden anthers her soul glowing with heavenly light.

I'm trying to locate the precise sources of these traditions.
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2008, 10:50:20 PM »

Thanks! I actually already considered that website in the course of my futile online search; the problem is that it only makes general allusions to what "tradition" tells us:
I'm trying to locate the precise sources of these traditions.

Quote
According to Biblical scholars, the Easter Lily was found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas is said to have betrayed Jesus. Legend tells that white lilies miraculously sprung up from the ground where drops of Jesus' sweat and tears fell during his last hours.

The Easter Lily also has close associations with Jesus' mother, the Virgin Mary. In early religious paintings, the Archangel Gabriel is pictured extending a branch of white lilies to Mary, symbolizing that she had become the virgin mother to the savior.

Today, many churches use large bouquets of lilies to adorn their alters and crosses during the Easter season.

Getting more specific is a tougher challenge given the limited reach of the Internet.   Smiley
Source for above quote:
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« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2008, 12:05:53 AM »

I think they are used because of this verse in scripture. Wink

(Mat 6:28-29 KJV)
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: [29] And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2008, 12:11:25 AM »

This must be the Icon. Cool
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« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2008, 12:15:03 AM »

Actually, the "correct" lily is Lilium candidum, the Madonna lily. It's the ancient lily of the Mediterranean (going back to Minoan art) and is a nearly invariable element in Western images of the Annunciation well down into the middle ages. Usually in it's in a pot, but sometimes it is held as a wand by Gabriel.

Some of the symbolism is obvious. I don't know how it got attached to Easter, though I do know why the Easter lily is a different (Asian) species (L. longiflorum). L. candidum is tough as nails as far as climate is concerned (to USDA zone 4) but it is susceptible to viruses. It also isn't as robust as the Easter lily, and perhaps isn't as amenable to forcing. (The Easter lilies in the garden at church are in bloom right now.) The Madonna lily is an odd duck in that it puts out some leaves in the fall, which remain over the winter until the main stem comes up in the late spring. It's a little untidy looking at that point, which may be another reason it isn't as popular.

The business about the Easter lily growing in Gathsemane is of course complete rubbish. L. longiflorum comes from Japan and wasn't described in the west until 1794. It would have been completely obvious for the Madonna lily to grow there-- for all we know, it would have been strange if it hadn't grown there. The business about the drops of sweat is something I've never heard; if I had to bet, I'd say it's a Victorian invention.
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Tzimis
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« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2008, 12:18:36 AM »

http://www.usask.ca/antiquities/Collection/Lily_Vase.html
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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2008, 01:20:04 AM »

Just to throw a spanner in the works, the lily in question is known in Australia and New Zealand as a "Christmas Lily", as it flowers during November-December in the southern hemisphere.

Regarding the iconography of the Annunciation and the Archangel Gabriel holding a lily: The lily motif is a very late addition (18thC at the earliest) to the iconographic record, and is unquestionably an influence from western religious art. That, in itself, is not a hanging offence, but it is interesting that in the hymnography to the Mother of God, any floral references are for roses (as in unfading rose), not lilies.
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« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2008, 02:48:30 PM »

I found only a couple of examples of Annunciation icons, not enough to draw conclusions from. However I think I saw no more than one which had a lily in it. I get the impression that the annunciation was a far more popular subject in the west than in the east.

One thing which figures in this is the Western practice of identifying saints by their attributes. Most saints have a symbolic object associated with them, and especially from late medieval into the renaissance one will typically see this object held by or sitting next to the saint. For example, St. Barbara will hold a tower; St. Catherine, her wheel. If you're in the garden you can tell the status of St. Francis from that of St. Fiacre because the latter will be holding a shovel or spade. The lily is an attribute of the Virgin, as is the rose; however, the latter is more associated with the passion (because of the thorns and the reddish color).

We're still with the Easter lily "tradition" being a creation of florists, not iconographers.
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