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Miracle of the roses

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Title: Miracle of the roses  
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Subject: Rosa × damascena, Pottenstein, Bavaria, Casilda of Toledo
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Miracle of the roses

The miracle of the roses is a Catholic miracle in which roses announce the presence or activity of God (see below: The legend).[1] Such a miracle is presented in various hagiographies and legends in different forms,[2] and it occurs in connection with diverse individuals such as St. Elisabeth of Hungary (1207–1231), St. Elizabeth of Portugal (1271–1336), and Our Lady of Guadalupe (appeared in 1531).

Symbolism of The Rose

In the Latin West the symbolism of the rose is a Greco-Roman heritage but influenced and finally transformed through Latin biblical texts which were also liturgical. The rose acquired in the Greco-Roman culture a symbolism which can be summarized thus: The rose represented beauty, the season of spring, and love. It also spoke of the fleetness of life and therefore death. In Rome the feast called "Rosalia" was a feast of the dead: thus the flower referred to the next world.[3]

This symbolism attained a deeper complexity when contrasted with the thorns among which this flower blossoms. This contrast inspired the Christian Latin poet Sedulius, who wrote (between 430-450) a very elaborate comparison between Eve, our first mother, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus our Savior. He illustrated the parallelism already made by the martyr and apologist Justin (around 150) and developed it in a deep poetic and doctrinal liturgical teaching in his Paschal song, Carmen paschal.[3]

The rose was evidently a privileged symbol for Mary, Queen of heaven and earth. We see this development later during the Middle Ages, but not in an exclusive manner: The rose became an attribute of many other holy women - for example, Casilda of Toledo, Elizabeth of Portugal, Elizabeth of Hungary, Rose of Lima, and for the martyrs in general. The rose is even a symbol for Christ himself, as seen in the German Christmas song, "es ist ein 'Rose' entsprungen."[3]

During the Middle Ages the rose was cultivated in monastery gardens and used for medicinal purposes. It became a symbol in religious writing and iconography in different images and settings, to invoke a variety of intellectual and emotional responses. [4] The mystic rose appears in Dante's Divine Comedy, where it represents God's love. By the twelfth century, the red rose had come to represent Christ's passion, and the blood of the martyrs.[5]

The most common association of the rose is with the Virgin Mary. The third-century Saint Ambrose believed that there were roses in the Garden of Eden, initially without thorns, but which became thorny after the fall, and came to symbolize Original Sin itself. Thus the Blessed Virgin is often referred to as the 'rose without thorns', since she was immaculately conceived. Saint Bernard compared her virginity to a white rose and her charity to a red rose. With the rise of Marian worship and the Gothic cathedral in the twelfth century, the image of the rose became even more prominent in religious life. Cathedrals built around this time usually include a rose window, dedicated to the Virgin, at the end of a transept or above the entrance. The thirteenth century Saint Dominic is credited with the institution of the Rosary, a series of prayers to the Virgin, symbolized by garlands of roses worn in Heaven.[4]

St. Elisabeth of Hungary

In Western Europe, the best-known version of a miracle of the roses concerns St. Elisabeth of Hungary (better known in Western Europe as St. Elisabeth of Thuringia), the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, who spent most of her life living with her in-laws in Germany, the rulers of Thuringia, who kept court at Wartburg Castle.[6]


It has been suggested that the legend originated in a sermon given by Caesarius von Heisterbach in which he reflects on the occasion of the translation of the remains of St. Elisabeth, in 1236. Caesarius speaks of a sweet aroma that emanates from the grave as soon as it is opened (a common theme in hagiography).[7] This metaphorical or actual aroma could have been translated into a physical event, the miracle of the roses.[6] The first report of a miracle resembling that of the roses is by Franciscans in the mid-13th century. Their account is of spring flowers, and the event takes place in Hungary, at Elisabeth's home when she was five years old.[8] The miracle as we know it, with roses and in Germany, is first reported in 1332, in a Franciscan book of prayers,[6] though it has also been proposed that the miracle was "translated" from St. Elisabeth of Portugal to St. Elisabeth of Thuringia in the nineteenth century.[9][10]

The legend

In its most characteristic form the legend goes as follows. One day the young but pious St. Elisabeth, in the company of one or more serving women, descends from Wartburg Castle down to the village of Eisenach, below the castle. She is carrying meat, eggs, and bread under her mantle. Supposedly she has taken items from the family dining table to distribute to the poor in the village, against the wishes of her family, who frown upon such behavior. Halfway down, she unexpectedly meets her husband Ludwig IV of Thuringia, who asks, upon seeing her bulk, what she is carrying. Embarrassed and speechless as she is, she does not know what to say. Ludwig opens her mantle, and to his surprise (in some versions this takes place in the dead of winter) finds her carrying a bouquet of roses.[8]

Similar versions

St. Elisabeth of Portugal

Very much the same story is told of St. Elisabeth of Portugal, also known as Elizabeth of Aragon (1271–4 July 1336), who was the great-niece of St. Elisabeth of Thuringia. Married to the profligate King Denis of Portugal, she, like her great-aunt, showed great devotion at an early age, and likewise was charitable toward the poor, against the wishes of her husband. Caught one day by her husband, while carrying bread in her apron, the food was turned into roses. Since this occurred in January, King Denis reportedly had no response and let his wife continue. The story is somewhat apocryphal; while it shows up in popular versions of the saint's life,[11][12] the account is missing from more authoritative sources such as the revised 1991 edition of Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints.[13]

St. Casilda of Toledo

Similar also is the legend of St. Casilda of Toledo (died c. 1050), a daughter of a Muslim king of Toledo, Spain during the rule of the Caliphate, who showed special kindness to Christian prisoners.[14][15] She would carry bread hidden in her clothes to feed these prisoners; one day, when caught, the bread was miraculously changed into roses.[16] In the famous painting of St. Casilda by the 17th-century painter Francisco Zurbarán, roses are visible in the saint's lap; the miracle is also depicted in a painting by the 19th-century painter Jose Nogales. But while St. Casilda supposedly died in the eleventh century, predating the birth of both Elisabeth of Hungary and Elisabeth of Portugal, her hagiography was not written until three centuries after her death, and is likely influenced by the legend of either of these Elisabeths.[17]

St. Didacus of Alcalá

Of the 15th-century Franciscan St. Didacus of Alcalá, also known as San Diego, the same miracle is told: as a lay brother of the Franciscans in Spain, he often took bread from the monastery's dining table to give to the poor. One day, leaving the convent with a cloak full of food, he was accused and challenged to open his cloak; miraculously, the loaves of bread had changed into roses.[18][19]

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is of an entirely different character, although here again the miraculous presence of the roses in the middle of winter is a sign of the presence of the divinity. The account is a corollary to a Marian apparition, Our Lady of Guadalupe, found in the 1556 booklet Nican Mopohua, and supposedly taking place in 1531.[20] It concerns a native inhabitant of Mexico named Juan Diego, whom the Virgin chooses to convey a message to an unwilling bishop, that "Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes." The bishop however, does not believe Diego's story. He returns to his field, where again the Virgin appears to him, with the same message. Diego again goes to the bishop, with the same result, and the remark that he has to bring a token if he is to be believed. The fourth time the Virgin appears, she directs Diego toward "varied Castilian flowers" which he picks; she then places the flowers in his mantle.[21] (The identification of these flowers as Castilian roses is a later addition.) This time the bishop is convinced, especially when an image of the Virgin miraculously appears on Diego's cloak.[22]

St. Rita of Cascia

A miracle involving roses occurred to St. Rita of Cascia. The winter before the end of her life, a cousin visited St. Rita of Cascia and asked her if she desired anything from her old home at Roccaporena. St. Rita responded by asking for a rose and a fig from the garden. It was January and her cousin did not expect to find anything due to the snowy weather. However, when her relative went to the house, a single blooming rose was found in the garden, as well as a fully ripened and edible fig. Her cousin brought the rose and fig back to St. Rita at the convent, who thanked her and gave the rose to her sisters.

The rose is thought to represent God's love for Rita and Rita's ability to intercede on behalf of lost causes or impossible cases. Rita is often depicted holding roses or with roses nearby, and on her feast day, churches and shrines of St. Rita provide roses to the congregation that are blessed by priests during Holy Mass.

Statement of the Pope John Paul II

In occasion of the centenary of the canonization of St. Rita of Cascia, Pope John Paul II mentioned this miracle in his address[23] to the pilgrims, stating that the worldwide devotion to St. Rita is symbolized by the rose, and that it is to be hoped that the life of her devoted pilgrims will be like that rose picked in the garden of Roccaporena before her death. The Pope added that St. Rita spiritually offers her rose to each of her pilgrims as an exhortation to be witnesses to a hope that never disappoints.

See also


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