Medieval Flower Symbolism: Understand Ancient Meanings of Flowers

For centuries poets, sculptors, and painters were inspired by historical and religious stories to create artwork. Over the years, they used medieval flower symbolism to dig into deeper meanings and express their feelings better. People looked up to nature for spiritual enlightenment, associating different flowers with specific purposes and intentions.

Types and colors of flowers were used in artwork to send specific messages. Some flowers, like lilies and marigolds, have a religious significance, and scholars linked them to saints and martyrs. Roses were linked to love and romance, but the color red was associated with the shed blood of Christ and Christian martyrs.

So, if you want to learn more about the meanings of different flowers and their colors in medieval times, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more about this topic.

Medieval Flower Symbolism: What Do They Mean?

By looking at medieval artwork, you can see how artists used flowers in manuscripts, literature work, paintings, and even figures of speech to convey different meanings. Some artists used these flowers when mentioning things directly wasn’t widely accepted by society. Others used these beautiful blooms to send a stronger message.

The type of the flower and its color were both used for this purpose. So, you can see some flowers associated with religious figures or royalty and not used in other contexts. As a matter of fact, some of these flowers got their commercial and familiar names from the people and events they were associated with.

Also Check: Flowers That Mean “Thinking of You”

Roses

People in medieval times valued roses for their medicinal benefits, fantastic fragrance, and outstanding beauty. People also used to make jams and jellies out of these gorgeous flowers.

Unlike modern flowers that bloom at different times of the year, medieval roses could only bloom in summer.

Yet, in art, roses were often associated with Christianity. For example, red roses were linked to the wounds of Christ, and artists depicted their thorns in artwork that showed the sufferings of Christian saints and martyrs.

A thornless rose symbolized the Virgin Mary, and the color white was always used to represent her chastity and other virtues. Roses were also associated with romance, passion, and love.

In Honor Making a Chaplet of Roses, the Lady makes a chaplet to protect her children. Although there are other flowers in this artwork, the roses are the only ones you can easily recognize.

Marigolds

Marigolds in a feild

Marigolds or calendula bloomed every month of the year in Medieval Times, and they were often called golds to refer to their gorgeous color. The flower was commonly called “Poor Man’s Saffron,” as it was used to color food and fabric.

Starting from the 16th century, these blooms were called Marigolds or Mary Golds, as they were associated with the Virgin Mary. The tiny petals of the marigolds collected dew, which dripped like tears, so the flowers often symbolized her sorrow and pain.

The flower’s name comes from the Latin word calendae, which means little calendar. It’s one of the oldest flowers described in ancient writings.

Due to the long bloom time, this flower was usually used to symbolize endurance. The yellow color in Medieval Times was a symbol of joy and happiness. Yet, its association with the Virgin Mary translated to meanings of grief, sorrow, and loss. It was also used as a farewell flower.

Irises

In Greek mythology, the Goddess Iris is the creator of rainbows and carries messages between gods. As a result, this flower had these meanings in the Middle Ages, becoming the symbol of hope, wisdom, and royalty.

Irises were discovered during the times of Ancient Egyptians and were introduced to their royal gardens, symbolizing the renewal of life in spring after winter. Some artists used irises to refer to The Passion of Christ, as the flower blooms at Easter, which is the time of the Resurrection.

In Europe, irises were linked to the French Monarchy, and the flower soon became their royal symbol. As a result, it was depicted in several artworks to symbolize royalty and elegance. Blue and purple irises were also often used to make perfume.

Related: One Yellow Rose Meaning

Lilies

White lilies were a sign of purity and virtue, and this flower soon became associated with the Virgin Mary. As a matter of fact, the common name of this white lily is the Madonna lily.

Lilies maintained their symbolism of physical and spiritual purity while being praised for their medicinal benefits.

In one of the earliest gardening books, Strabo described the benefits of lily bulbs as they can be used to treat snake bites. Since snakes were associated with sins and darkness, lilies represented the opposite. 

Lilies were also depicted in several sculptures, including the mosaic work in the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily, which shows the world’s creation. According to the artist, the first trees appeared after the land and water separated. One was carrying lilies, linking these gorgeous white flowers to new beginnings, purity after death, devotion, and humility.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflowers were native to the Americas, and the natives grew them around 5000 years ago. Early Spanish explorers carried the seeds of sunflowers to Europe in the 1500s, where they spread to the rest of the world.

Native Americans associated this flower with their sun gods because of its bright yellow color and tendency to rotate towards the sun. As a result, the flowers got a Latin name, Helianthus, after the Greek sun god, Helios.

In Europe, the flower’s shape and color symbolized devotion, longevity, loyalty, and adoration. Medieval artists often used sunflowers for the same symbol as daisies and marigolds, but they used them because their bigger size sent a stronger message.

In the artwork, A Boy Blowing Bubbles, the joy of the boy playing with bubbles is signified by the gorgeous sunflower to his side. It’s also a symbol of happiness and optimism.

Other Flowers

Several flowers have also been depicted in the Middle Ages to signify various symbols.

  • Orchids were the symbol of fertility and elegance.
  • Tulips were the symbol of love, hope, and royalty.
  • Daisies were the symbol of motherhood, purity, and innocence.
  • Carnations were the symbol of good fortune and love.
  • African violets were the symbol of wisdom and spirituality.
  • Anemones were the symbol of protection against evil and ill wishes.
  • Lavenders were the symbol of grace, serenity, and purity.
  • Dandelions were the symbol of joy and happiness.
  • Peonies were the symbol of good fortune and wealth.

Wrap Up: Medieval Flower Symbolism

Different flowers carried various symbols in Medieval Times, and these meanings were widely used in literature, paintings, and sculptures. Most of these meanings were associated with the historical origin of the flowers or their names, while some of them were associated with historical or religious figures.