Happy Easter and what better way to celebrate but with these Scenes of Easter by Blognese artists Nerius, ca 14th century. I think that from today this will be one of my favorite Easter images. There is something about medieval blue ink and gold that captures one’s heart and imagination!
This specific work was created for a community of Augustinian monks, for an Antiphonary (a book of plainsong for the Divine Office).
Nerius decorates the letter A. You will notice that the top of the letter is missing. By doing this, by opening it, Nerius exposed the figures to the heavens. Also, do notice that the A’s crossbar separates the earth and the group of singing monks (below) from the realm of heaven, where they obviously gaze (above). In heavens (perhaps as sung to by the monks) we notice God, seated above the clouds, and surrounded by angels.
The tiny detail of the monk’s attire, black habits edged in white at the neck, suggests the Augustinian monks.
The scene weaves the accounts of two Gospels. Following Mark, the women approach the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body but find an angel at his empty tomb. According to Matthew’s report of what happened to two holy women on Easter Sunday, they meet Jesus as they leave.
Nerius executed this masterpiece (I think we can call it like this) using tempera, gold and ink on parchment. It is quite small, measuring at 23.9 cm x 23.8 cm.
Nerius’ signature is identical with the one he left on a legal manuscript for which Bologna, with its great university, was renowned. Thus rendering this artwork as his.
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Plants are deeply rooted in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, this positive blend of cultural creations and ancient spirituality. Plants have been used as cures, in ritualistic traditions and for magic spells for centuries, all over the world. Let’s discover how a few of these herbs and flowers got their names in Romanian folklore, the legends behind it and their connection with Christianity.
Flower Sunday, Floriile or Palm Sunday
A special Christian celebration is on Palm Sunday: the day of Flowers, Floriile, Goddesses of Spring. Flora, in Roman religion, was the goddess of flowering plants and was the patron on month April. In Romanian folklore April is called Prier (from Latin aperio, to open, correlated with the opening of the buds’ leaves), and May is called Frunzar (leafy) and Florar (flowery).
So if you know someone whose first name is that of a flower, send them your best wishes on Palm Sunday, on Florii Day.
Sfintele Paști, Easter celebrations and Flowers: Wood Anemones and Violets
The wood anemones are Easter flowers and legend says that they sprouted from the earth wet by Jesus’ tears and that Saint Mary shared them to the four corners of the earth, at His request. Wood anemones have various nicknames in the folk tradition that symbolizes their strong correlation with Easter: the White Flower of Easter, the Flower of Blessed Friday, Easter’s Bread.
Folklore tradition calls for picking the White Flower of Easter this time of the year and decorating the Easter table with it as well as taking it to church as an offering on Good Friday. It is seen as a blessed flower.
Violets, too, are Easter flowers with a somehow mellow connotations. They represents young girls, children, metamorphosed into flowers. Is it pain, premature death that causes this? Certain is that violets are made into little crowns placed on the graves of young maidens or lads.
Plants and Christianity in Romanian Folklore
In Romanian folklore there are numerous plants named after Christian holidays, saints, Virgin Mary, and so on, depicting popular belief in the plant’s incredible powers in aiding the body and the soul.
Plain hogweed is called earth’ cross;
blue anemone hepatica is warrior’s cross;
orpine or livelong is Heaven’s Table;
bugleweed is God’s Mercy;
Mock Orange is Heaven’s Tree;
Sweet William is Priest’s Seat;
Rose Champion or Rabbit’s Ears is Saint Mary’s Belt;
begonia is Angel (îngeraș, probably due to the resemblance that popular imagination created between the angels’ wings and the plant’s leaves);
sage or Sage of the diviners is Virgin Mary’s Hand;
maidenhair fern is Virgin Mary’s Hair.
The common vervain, its Romanian meaning translating to God’s Arrow, is considered a holy herb, bringing wealth in the house and predicting the future too. It is believed to have grown first on the Mountain of Transfiguration and the plant can only be picked by fairies, Sânziene, who bring offerings before collecting it: bread, salt and a silver coin. It is believed that this specific plant helped heal Jesus’ wounds.
On the other hand Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins, Judas’ Plant and many banish it from their gardens.
The White Lily and its Symbology in Iconography
The white lily, Lilium Candidum, is believed to be Virgin Mary’s flower who is depicted holding baby Jesus with one arm and a white lily in her other hand. White lily is believed to be the first flower to ever be cultivated by humans and is associated with purity. Archangel Gabriel is also depicted offering Virgin Mary white lily after the birth of Baby Jesus. Saint Joseph is also depicted as holding Baby Jesus and a white lily as a symbol of purity and of Saint Mary.
We can clearly see that Virgin Mary is highly revered not only in the Christian Orthodox Church, but also in Romanian folklore. Yet by eighteenth century Carol Linnaeus), the founding father of modern scientific biological nomenclature, discouraged the practice of attributing names of saints to plants, a sign that scientific terminology was on its way towards gaining autonomy from the ancient naming practices.
Poppy flowers is believed to have been initially white. They turned red when a few drops from Jesus’ blood fell on them, underneath the cross. Since then poppy flowers are red, in remembrance of His sacrifice.
Basil in Christian Tradition and a Spell too
Basil is also a herb with deep christian connotations. It is associated with Jesus, Saint Mary and God. Romanian folklore says that basil first sprouted when Jesus was born, but also that it grew when Saint Mary wept by the Cross.
If maidens place under their pillow a strand of dry basil received from a priest, on the night of Boboteaza, Epiphany night,6 January, also considered the coldest night of the year, they can dream of their future husband. If they don’t dream that night they can try again on Sânziene Day, on 24 June.
On the same night maidens can take a handful of basil and go to a river, a running water. They dip the basil in water and then they wash their faces with it so they will be liked and loved by lads.
Basil and its role in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, Saint George’s Day, 23 April
To keep its holy powers basil must be planted on Saint George, on 23 April, and harvested on 14 September, on the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is then hanged by icons till it dries.
Basil is considered holy because it has the power to turn water in holy water, agheasma, used in Christian churches.
On Easter, Christian believers wash their faces with the water in which they kept a basil, a red painted egg, and a silver coin – to be liked and loved.
On Saint George and Saint Andres old women hang basil tied with a red ribbon on the stable’s door so that the cow’s milk will flow on and on.
Siting under the shade of a tree
Myrrh, smirna, with its waxy branches and thorns, give us a resin that changes color from yellow to reddish, scented when burned and bitter to taste. Its scent a smoke are said to induce meditation and prayer and warn off any evil spirits.
Fascinating is how the effect of this resin spilled into the Romanian language. We say a sta smirna, meaning sitting quietly, or tacut smirna, meaning really quiet, as one would sit in meditation, which is exactly the effect of burning myrrh, smirna.
A branch from the bladdernut tree, clocotișul or clocoticiul, tied around your waist is said to warn off any evil spirits and no hail will bother you in your travels either.If you take these twigs to church on Easter Sunday their good powers will increase tenfold. Very long ago, before a woman would embark on a long journey she would fashion for herself a necklace made of young twigs of the bladdernut tree and wear it around her neck to warn off evil and not get lost Her courage will also increase, that she would be amazed by herself.
Also warding off evil spirits is the mugwort, a plant said to protect against pandemics too, so wear some around your neck.
Without any doubt, we can observe now everyday plants and flowers in a different light. From a sacred meaning to the scientific one, and through their legends, plants are so much more than they reveal to us. Don’t you think?
I hope you enjoyed reading about Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore. Do return for more herbal folk tales.
It was an erstwhile
custom that a mother, no matter how elderly or ailing she felt, would take it
upon herself to bring food to her lad bided elsewhere as soon as the snow thawed
and the first white spring shoots pierced the ground.
A folktale tells that
Mary, the mother of Jesus, took it upon herself to visit Jesus in Jerusalem and
thus she packed a basket with fresh eggs. It wasn’t much else she could take
him, Herod having just increased his taxes, again.
The road was winding
through the verdant green hills of Judea and Mary’s heart felt light for each
step brought her hither to her son, which she hasn’t seen in a long time. As
the morning progressed her own shadow became but a puddle by her feet. Soon
enough the basket began feeling heavier and heavier in her work-worn hand and
her steps became slower and slower and she felt like her journey to Jerusalem
had become a quest for shade. Not many trees were in bloom so as soon as Mary spotted
a stream sheltered by a little arbor she quickened her step and stopped to cool
and quench her thirst. It was a thirst like she had never felt before. So she looked about and decided to stop for a
The stream singed and
Mary saw a new nest above her head and smiled. Life was precious. The water
moved softly over her fingers and, when she removed her hand, a few droplets lingered
on her fingers. She brought the hand to her eyes and smiled, a whole life scene
embedded in those tiny see-through pearls.
It was a peaceful
moment and life’s moments were just like this string of beads following each
other on her outstretched hand. Each one connected to the next, stronger
together. Filled with love.
But it was time to move
along. Before getting up something tugged at her heart and Mary lifted the white
cotton fabric that covered the basket to see if the eggs were still in good
A dreadful sight unfolded
before her eyes. It was as if the sun had stopped shining, no gurgling from the
stream could glide through the air and all proof of life on earth had been stamped
The eggs had turned blood
red and the Blessed Mother of Jesus understood that the time had come for her son
to pay for our sins. But she was first a mother and he was her baby boy and so
she wept, Mary did, and as her tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped onto
the blood covered eggs they drew patterns, a cross, a star, lines and spirals.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus hang on the cross, she laid the basket at his feet and knelled to pray. Then Jesus spoke and asked her not to cry for Him, but to share those blessed eggs with the people who believe in His resurrection.
This is why on the Orthodox Easter we color boiled eggs in red, we draw patterns on them and we share them with our loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, knocking egg against egg and saying: “Christ has risen,” and answer “It is true He has risen.”
The symbolism of the Easter egg
The hard shell of the egg symbolizes the sealed Tomb of Christ.
The cracking of the egg (through knocking) symbolizes His Resurrection.
The Ritual of coloring Easter Eggs
It is said that coloring Easter eggs is a sacred ritual. The day when one colors the eggs is special and no other activity will take place.
On counting the eggs that are to be colored, one doesn’t begin with one, but with “one thousand”, thus bringing wealth in the house for the remainder of the year.
The paint was already prepared, using different plants for different colors. GREEN – was made from walnut leaves, sweet apple skin. RED came from the leaf of a sweet apple, corn leaves or thyme. A special flower was used for YELLOW. Oregano was used to give the colored eggs a heavenly perfume.
The room where the eggs were painted was also special. No worried or upset person was allowed to step inside and no bad rumors or news of people who just passed away were allowed to reach the ears of the egg-painter.
Easter egg color symbolism
Easter eggs are nowadays colored in a rainbow of shades.
WHITE – means purity
RED – symbolizes the blood of Christ and life
BLUE – symbolizes the sky above, uniting us all
BLACK – means fertility
GREEN – means nature
YELLOW – symbolizes sun and energy
Orthodox Easter Eggs Design Symbolism, Traditions
A straight vertical line means life.
A straight horizontal line means death.
A double straight line symbolizes eternity.
A rectangle pattern – symbolizes thought and knowledge.
A sinuous line symbolizes water and purity.
A spiral means time and eternity.
A double spiral symbolizes the connection between life and death.
Cross – symbol for Christianity
A cross with additional small crosses at the end of each arm is a Russian cross.
A star – is called the “shepherd’s star”
A monastery – symbol of Christianity
Other motives used for decorating Easter eggs: bees, frogs, snakes, lambs, garden tools, fir tree, tulip, wheat.
Other traditions call for all the family members to wash their faces with fresh water on Easter morning, water from a container that holds a red egg and a silver coin. It is believed that the red egg brings good luck, good health, warn off evil spirits and all spells.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Easter eggs’ symbolism and traditions.