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The Story of Roses in History

Feb 25, 2008
For four thousand years and more the world has extolled the rose as Nature's superb floral creation. Dean Hole said "Her supremacy has been acknowledged, like Truth itself, always, everywhere, by all." From Sappho to modern times all poets have lauded the beauty and perfume of the rose; their highest praise of beauty has often been expressed by comparison with it.

Roses flourished in the gardens of Babylon earlier than 2000 B.C. The Greeks and Romans used the rose at their feasts and in symbols both as decoration and as a charm against many evils, including alcoholic intoxication. Rose blooms were sold in large numbers from extensive gardens devoted entirely to their culture.

Garlands of roses were hung at all rejoicings and heads were crowned with rose wreaths. Rose petals were lavishly strewn on beds and floors, and in the paths of favoured people. Cleopatra, in her magnificence, had rose petals eighteen inches deep on her floors. Huge sums of money were spent in purchasing blooms and petals; Nero is said to have spent the equivalent of about 80,000 for roses for one feast alone.

Wines, conserves, perfumes, oils, medicines, lotions, embalming agents, adornments, honours the rose came to be used for them all. Rose-water was the only perfume for centuries, and it was also used for washing and purifying.

We find references to the rose in writings of all Northern Hemisphere lands England, America, China, Persia, India, Iceland, Lapland, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Syria, Greece, and Egypt and among them all there is never a questioning of the supremacy of "the Queen of Flowers". This title was first bestowed by Sappho, about 600 B.C., in the following words:

The Rose (mankind will agree),
The Rose the Queen of Flowers should be;
The pride of plants, the grace of bowers,
The blush of meads, the eye of flowers;
Its beauties charm the gods above;
Its fragrance is the breath of love.

In the Authorized Version of the Bible the rose is mentioned only twice "I am the rose of Sharon" (Song of Solomon ii. 1), and ". . . the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" (Isaiah xxxv. 1) but the word "rose" does not, in either case, refer to any member of the botanical group genus Rosa. Some authorities identify it with Narcissus tazetta, a sweetly scented flower of a bulbous plant, others with Hibiscus syriacus and others with Hypericum calycinum.

In Egypt the rose appears to have been unknown until about 300 B.C., but it gradually replaced the lotus as the most favoured flower. It had probably been taken to Egypt by the Greeks. Many Egyptian tombs dating from A.D. 100 to 300 have been found containing garlands of roses, rosebuds, and rose petals. They have usually been pink and white, but occasionally there have been single yellow blooms, probably R. foetida, the Yellow Austrian Briar.

Feasting and intoxication were disapproved by the Church of Rome, and the rose fell into ecclesiastical disfavour for many years because of its association with these excesses. Later it was used frequently as an emblem. The Golden Rose of the Church of Rome, dating from the fourteenth century, is blessed by the Pope on Laetare Sunday and is occasionally bestowed on persons or institutions of special merit in the Roman Catholic faith. In the Middle Ages, roses were used in crowning priests, wreathing candles, and adorning shrines.

Ever since, the rose has been used in times of celebration. In fact it is the flower for all occasions, and will continue to be so.
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