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Feb 22, 2024

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The Legends of the Lenten and Easter Season

The ancients gathered the anemone to decorate the altars of Venus, since they were the tokens of her love, and also to wreathe the faces of the dead. The idea of immortality seems to have long pertained to it, and is still known in parts of Europe as the Easter flower, or flower of the Resurrection.

As the “cow bell,” it garlanded the cow in the Easter festivals of the Germans. In the Holy Land it is the “blood drops of Christ,” for the sacred blood fell upon the anemones that were springing on Calvary on the evening of the crucifixion and they became red from that hour.

When Christ was praying in Gethsemane on the night before the tragedy, he was disturbed by the sawing and crackling of the broom plant. It continued its noise until those who sought Christ approached with Judas at their head.

When seeing the array of swords and spears, Christ said to the broom, “May you always burn with as much noise are you are making now.”

The stigmas of the saffron crocus were used in a cordial, and the juice of the flower gave a lively golden yellow hue to cakes and breads in cookery during the Lenten fast to keep up the spirits of the public.

The Reed or Rush
The reed or rush, long associated with kingship, seems to have represented the royal scepter. We learn that Moses’ cradle anchored among the rushes that beaconed above his head as pointing the way to high station among his people. We see the reed placed in the helpless hands of Christ as he is mocked before his death.

While Christ was resting in a wood during the pursuit prior to His crucifixion, the magpies covered him with hawthorn, which the swallows, “fowls of God,” removed as soon as His enemies had passed. From this circumstance the plant gained holiness, and in the Christian legends it is noted how Joseph of Arimathea planted the white thorn of Glastonbury, which, to prove its saintly association, blooms on Christmas Eve, no matter what the weather.

Among older nations, the lily represented virginity and innocence, like most of the white flowers; hence the lilies on our altars at Easter. These relics of sun worship, which began in Egypt, will sometimes have their anthers removed so that they may remain virgin.

It is tradition that Nicodemus bought a hundredweight of myrrh and aloes in which to embalm the body of Christ, following the custom of the Egyptians.

Oak Tree
The oak, known as the holm, or ilex, a funeral tree in which the raves croaked forebodings, “drew lightning” to the degree that ancient farmers planted it as a lightning rod, or spite vent for the gods, which may account for its somber reputation.

When Christ’s fate was known in the forest the trees held council and resolved not to lend their wood for the execution. Every tree that the ax-men tried to cut, splintered and broke, or dulled the tool with knots, till the ilex was reached. That alone remained whole, and of that the instrument was shaped; but though it thus became accursed, Jesus forgave it as content to die with Him, and in the shade of the ilex He reappeared to the apostles.

Olive Tree
Yet another legend regarding the wood used in the crucifixion was the olive tree, which sprang from the seeds planted in Adam’s mouth after his death by his son Seth.

When the saplings had rooted, they were planted and after 30 years grew into one tree. Solomon saw its beauty in use and hewed it down to see what manner of timber it would make, but no amount of trimming and shaping could make it fit its place as a beam for the Temple in Jerusalem.

Finally, finding no use for the timber, it was thrown into a marsh where the Queen of Sheba crossed it to dry ground when she visited Jerusalem. As her feet rested there a vision arose before her and she saw Christ suspended on a cross at the hilltop, undergoing a shameful death.

And so it came to pass, for after a time the log floated to the surface of the morass again, and on the night of the betrayal it was lifted out and shaped into a cross; some say by the hand of Christ Himself.

The pale color of the olive leaves is due to their still reflecting the glory that shone on them when the Sufferer was transfigured on Olivet.

The Palm
Much religious significance is attributed to the palm. We still keep Palm Sunday in memory of the day when Christ entered Jerusalem and the people waved and strewed palms before Him – an incident now denoted in wearing of crossed fragments of palm in hats or on the clothing.

In Latin countries and in the United States, palm leaves are often shaped and woven into little crosses and other symbolic designs. This custom was originated by a suggestion in the ceremonial book for bishops, that “little crosses of palm” be attached to the boughs wherever true palms are not available in sufficient quantity.

St. Clara, founder of the order of Poor Clares, renounced the world on Palm Sunday. St. Francis of Assisi endowed her with a palm branch which in those days was a mark of sanctity.

When Mary, the mother of Christ, was hungry during the flight to Egypt, the infant Jesus ordered the tree to bend so that Mary could pluck the fruit of the palm (date), and this it did so willingly that he blessed it and chose it as a “symbol of salvation for the dying,” promising that when He entered Jerusalem in triumph it would be with a palm in his hand.

In her Legends of the Madonna, Mrs. Jameson tells how the Virgin was comforted after the crucifixion by an angel who appeared crying, “Hail Mary, blessed of God! I bring a palm that has grown in Paradise. Let it be carried before your bier on your death, for in three days you shall join your son.”

The angel then took his flight, leaving the branch on the ground where it shone and sparkled gloriously. When the friends and disciples came from the mount of sorrow, Mary gave the palm to John and asked him to bear it at her burial. That night, amid the sound of singing and a gush of strange perfume through the house, the Virgin died with angels about her bed and such a blaze of light arising from her body that those who prepared it for burial were nearly blinded.

And the palm was carried to her tomb where another miracle occurred, for she was rapt to heaven in the flesh and welcomed by choiring angels and players upon harps beyond number in multitude.

Looking into the tomb afterward, it was found to hold no corruption, but to be filled with roses and lilies.

The Polish people assume that the leek, because it resembled the reed, was borne as a mock scepter by Christ when He was crowned with thorns, and place its flower-stalk in the hands of His statue on certain holy days.

The Willow
There are many tales and superstitions connected with the willow. It bears a curse, inasmuch or it is, supposedly, the tree on which Judas hanged himself. It is the meeting place for witches; and if you should be strolling through a desolate countryside near a thicket of willows and hear a voice luring and laughing, beware, for it is Kundry, the witch of “Parsifal,” who is there.

She is that Herodias who asked for the head of John the Baptist, and who, when Christ went to His death, laughed at Him. Christ turned one reproving look upon her then bade her go into the world and wander until His return, forbidding her the solace of tears when she was weary of her fate – a fate of the legend of the Wandering Jew.

But, apart from this tale of mishap, there is the faith of others that the willow has virtues on Palm Sunday when used as a substitute for the palm; for its branches on that day become valuable for healing and the aversion of spells. It has, of old, a purifying agency.

Speedwell (Veronica)
The legend of St. Veronica, associated with the veronica, or speedwell, is mentioned in the early Christian legends. However, the plant has other attributes than that of suggesting the picture of Christ on the handkerchief; wherewith the saint wiped the blood and sweat from the face of Jesus as He went to His death.

The Rose
One legend of the Crucifixion names the rose brier as the plant chosen for the “crown of thorns.” As drops of Christ’s blood fell to the earth, roses sprang up and blossomed on that spot.

The Golden Rose
On the fourth Sunday of each Lenten season, a rose of gold is blessed by the Pope and bestowed upon distinguished persons, churches, shrines and sometimes to cities which have done much for the Church.

If no person or institution is worthy to receive this golden rose, it is put away in the Vatican and awarded, if there is anyone worthy, the following year. In the event of a bestowal, a new rose is created during that year.

This practice of bestowing a costly gift began in the 12th century and it is told that one of the Popes sent a shirt woven of gold to a king who had been instrumental in promoting Christianity.

As time went on, the practice of bestowing various costly gifts was replaced by a single golden rose. Later on, this single rose was transformed into a cluster of roses with stems and leaves which were embellished with many costly jewels.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland was a recipient of the prestigious award.