Anja and I go way back. We attended the same high school in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and since we lived close by, we spend lots of time together traveling to the school and back. Particularly I remember our bicycle tips in springs as they took >40 minutes one way! Boy that was fun :). I admire(d) her greatly, her abilities in maths and physics were way beyond me, plus she excelled in German and played a classical guitar. Nice sets of skill, I would say. She is an architect with great passion for restoration, is a mother of two and loves plants. The rose bush around her house and her indoor plants are a proof of that.

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Anja among her roses

Recently we were in touch and I one thing led to another and we ended up talking about guest post. She chose to introduce lilies as she finds them beautiful, for their symbolic value and as she just learned, to her surprise, that lilies are not close relatives to irises. They actually both belong to monocots, but to different orders: lilies belong to Liliales and the family Liliaceae (includes 16 genera and >700 species), while irises belong to Asparagales and the family Iridiaceae (includes 128 genera and >2300 plant species) [1]. She explained that the confusion was mostly due to the fleur-de-lis, a French royal lily (⚜), which is actually a stylized iris widely used in French heraldry and elsewhere (i.e. coat of arms of Florence).

So, do not confuse these:

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Irises on the Slavnik hill, Slovenia (photo: Iztok Perko)

with these:

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Lilies outside my office this summer…

Actually, some of them really do look alike… She will take you on the tour of lilies in fields other than botany. I hope you will find it as interesting as I did:

 

“Like a lily among thorns is my darling among women.” (Song of Solomon 2:2 (GNT))

Why lilies? Spontaneously I thought of them also because Paula helped me with a botanic riddle at the conservation plan for the school in Preloka, Slovenia. And because they are a mighty symbol for many civilisations. The Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Israelites, the Minoans … they all found it special. So do I. Especially the white ones.

Lily is a flower of god(s) and celestial rulers. It is a symbol of beauty and dignity, which was very well adopted also by Christian Mediaeval world as a sign of salvation. It became an attribute to holy virgins and female martyrs as well as some holy men. Above all it is a symbol of purity and virginity of Virgin Mary and is her most popular floristic attribute beside the rose [2].

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An example of Mary and the lilies by Sebastiano Mainardi (died 1513): The Madonna and Child with John the Baptist and Angels (kept in Musée Thomas Henry, Cherbourg-Octeville, France; photo: http://notesdemusees.blogspot.si/2008/05/cherbourg.html)

Perhaps you are familiar with the white lily, which only blooms during the time of the Assumption in mid-August and is known as the Assumption Lily among horticulturalists [3]. It is the one that is actually on the photo above.

As a symbol lily was important also outside the Christian world. It had a strong imperial symbolism and was therefore one of the most common plants depicted at coat of arms and seals.

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The seal of Jew Baruh from the 14th century depicts a David’s star at the top and the lily at the bottom. The seal is one of the very few preserved Jewish seals in Slovenia and was used to conduct internal businesses only (kept in the National Museum of Slovenia, photo: J. Premk, M. Hudelja: Tracing Jewish Heritage: A Guidebook to Slovenia. Ljubljana, 2014, p. 13).

The motive of lily gained its peak at the end of the 19th century in the art of symbolism and secession. As a symbol of Holy Trinity (due to its three-petal-scheme) it is used also as an ornament underneath the windows of the school in Preloka, Slovenia. The nearby church, which donated the building plot, is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and this is probably why they choose this motive.

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The stylised lily underneath the windows of the school in Preloka, Slovenia (built in 1866, photo: Janez Premk)

In the Bible the lilies are mentioned several times. In the Song of Solomon they are allegories for beauty, purity, rarity of beloved ones: “His cheeks are as lovely as a garden that is full of herbs and spices. His lips are like lilies, wet with liquid myrrh.” (Song of Solomon 5:13 (GNT)). There is also the evidence that lilies’ form was used for architecture elements. There is a description of Solomon’s palace, where Huram, a skilled bronze craftsman, made two bronze columns for the temple: “The capitals were shaped like lilies, 6 feet tall, and were placed on a rounded section which was above the chain design. There were 200 pomegranates in two rows around each capital” (1 Kings 7:19-20 (GNT)).

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This painted stone lamp was found at Megiddo, Israel. Both capitals of bronze columns in the Solomon’s temple are supposed to look like it (photo: B. S. J. Isserlin: The Israelites. London, 1998, p. 39)

While writing about lilies I found out that this topic is quite extensive, old and well covered, also from the botanic-artistic point of view (i.e. [4]). However I tried to present some fresh material, which I crossed by during my work and leisure activities, or so I hope.

Sources:

[1] The Plant List http://www.theplantlist.org/ (28. 9.2015).

[2] Tine Germ: Simbolika cvetja. Ljubljana, 2002, pp. 69-73.

[3] Pauly Fongemie: Mary’s symbols http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/marys-symbols.htm (29. 9. 2015).

[4] R. Kandeler, W. R. Ullrich: Symbolism of plants: examples from European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art: JUNE: Lilies. http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/7/1893.full?sid=d29db086-7043-417d-a485-09c8b5c545cc (30. 9. 2015).

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