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.
If you journey through Transylvania, ‘the land across the forest’, (searching for Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler or Dracula) and head towards Brasov along the banks of the Big Tarnava River, you will surely spot from quite afar the pointy towers of medieval Sighisoara City, with its centuries old fortress and churches. We traveled there by train one winter.
I give you the ‘Pearl‘ and the ‘Nürnberg‘ of Transylvania, Sighisoara!
A brief history of Sighisoara
Nearly two millennia ago here rose a Roman castrum, a military fortified camp for guarding the roads. But more proof of local human settlements dates back to the Bronze Age.
Sighisoara as we know it took shape during the 12th century when Saxon merchants and craftsmen settled here for a few reasons…
First, to defend against Tatar invasions the eastern and southern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom, formed at the beginning of the Middle Ages on the Pannonian Plain. This border was none other but the line of River Târnava Mare.
Second, in search of a better life. These settlers, who chose the banks of the slower Saes river to build their homes, were soon known as the Transylvanian Saxons. By the 14th century, Sighișoara was a well known royal center with the status of an urban settlement, Civitas de Segusvar, and by the 15th century its guilds had received the sole right to its administration.
As it was the custom during the Middle Ages, captains ruled such territories, or royal citadels, and these captains obeyed the Prince of Transylvania which, in turn, was a vassal of the King of Hungary.
Yet there was a third, less known reason. As the people already living in this land were Christians and the Pope loved converting new territories to Catholicism, the plan of populating this area with Saxons emerged. So, over the centuries, in Transylvania arrived first the military contingents, then the Saxon merchant settlers.
Dominican monks also settled here at the end of the 13th century, followed by the Franciscans.
Today, a journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is time-travel at its best, as this is one of the few preserved medieval cities still found in Europe and the only one fully inhabited found in Romania.
Sighisoara – the etymology of a town’s name
Castrum Sex, Castle Six, was the name of the fortress that existed here prior to the apparition of the first Hungarian military contingents. This fortress was first attested at the beginning of the 13th century, before being almost completely destroyed by Tatars. Later we hear the name Castrum Sches, from Hungarian seges, or citadel, although it makes more sense to connect the fortress’ name with that of one of the rivers that run through it, river Şaeş.
Other names used for Sighisoara during the Middle Ages were Segusvar and Segeswar, as well as the German Schägesburh.
Vlad Dracul, Prince of Wallachia, was the first one to use the Romanian transcription of the town’s name, Schegischone, in a document from July 1st, 1435.
Sighisoara City – a layout with a purpose
One of the things I enjoyed about our journey around the medieval city of Sighisoara was that everything is within walking distance. Although the train station’s location is in the Lower City, Sighisoara’s modern area, it is easy to spot the walled fortress, atop a hill in the Upper City. The medieval citadel rises, colossal and gray, yet within close range, accessible through a bridge spanning across Tarnava Mare River.
Encircling Sighisoara fortress, one can very well admire the original defensive wall with its towers and bastions.
To recognize the craftsmen’s importance, each guild – and there were ten such associations in Sighisoara – received a tower of the citadel’s fortification. Thus, each guild was responsible for its own administration and it is still easy to guess which guilds were the most productive ones, as their towers are the best-preserved ones, and the biggest: Tailors’ Tower, Tin-makers’ Tower, and Goldsmiths’ Tower. But, above all, stands the 14th century Clock Tower and through here we made our entrance into the Sighisoara fortress.
The guilds were important as they fought against those who practiced the profession illegally. Also, their members enjoyed privileges with the Wallachian rulers.
The story of the fortresses’ ramparts and towers
Apart from its 164 houses, what we admired the most during our journey through the medieval city Sighisoara were its 930 meters long defense wall and towers. Why so many – for such a small fortress?
During the Late Middle Ages, sadly, the danger of the Ottoman Empire escalated. Therefore, the first mention of a wall around Sighisoara fortress dates back to 1490. The very first wall elevation showcased crenelations and rose only 3-4 meters in height, principally intended for arbalesters (crossbowmen).
16th century came and the bastion rose by two extra meters. Meurtrieres were now built in the wall, either as floor-holes (for dropping hot substances onto the attackers) or as loopholes (arrow slits or cannoniers). After the big fire of 1676, the fortress’ wall was 8 – 10 meters in height.
Let’s make our way inside this incredible medieval fortress.
The Clock Tower
Placed on the eastern side of Sighisoara’s defense system of walls and towers, closer to sunrise, to mark its value, the Clock Tower was the first to welcome us on our journey. On a follow-up blog post we’ll have a detailed look at the other towers, each one with its own incredible history, but for now let’s start here.
The Clock Tower is the main entrance in the fortress and the first spot we visited during our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara. The Tailors’ Tower, on the opposing wall of the fortress, is the second way into the citadel.
Yet it is the Clock Tower that hides a few symbols.
Massive and everlasting, the Saxons built their Clock Tower out of a myriad of humble river stones handpicked from the banks of the nearby rivers. Each stone is insignificant on its own, their strengths coming from their number, much as a king’s army. Erected with the intention of being the main entrance in the fortress the Clock Tower, fortified accordingly, had only two levels. Its walls are 2.3 meters thick and three gates defend it, while its belly protects the stairway connecting the Upper City with the Lower City.
Only a handful of visitors know that the Clock Tower is a symbol of Transylvanian Saxons’ pride and craftsmanship. They desired to build the biggest, tallest clock tower in the principality – as horology had a long tradition here, since the 14th century.
The only path into the fortress takes you underneath the tower itself. It is the Front Gate ensemble and part of the tower’s barbicane, a fortified outpost.
In 1844, inside the barbicane a courtyard appeared, the Old Ladies’ Corridor that you can see here. This is a wooden passage meant to ease the aged peasants’ access into the fortress, during heavy winters.
Into the fortress we go, underneath the Clock Tower, through the belly of the beast:
And emerging into the fortress. The visitors’ entrance in the Clock Tower is immediately on the right-hand side. The ground level of the tower dates back to the 14th century.
Similar to the second gate tower, the Tailor’s Tower, the Clock Tower has a rectangular floor plan and a ground floor with two vaulted gates over the passageway.
Hard to guess, but the Clock Tower, or the Big Tower of the Front Gate, reaches a height of 64 meters, of which 34 meters is the roof alone!
I admired the central, pointy roof with its baroque embellishments and its own main tower surrounded by four smaller ones, each rising at 12.5 meters. These four towers are a symbol of the city’s own judicial autonomy, right of the sword, meaning that back in the Middle Ages the Sighisoara City Council could give the death sentence and executions were also performed in the City Square.
Unlike the other wall towers, each belonging to a guild, the Clock Tower belonged to the public authorities serving as headquarter for the City Council. Master builders added the upper levels during the 15th and 16th centuries and when the great fire of 1676 destroyed the roof, Austrian craftsmen built a new one in 1677.
At the very top is a golden sphere, atop which a wind vane in the shape of a rooster still stands. The bulb-shaped roof stands as the oldest proof of Baroque influence in Transylvania. The golden sphere is a symbol of local power and has a diameter of 1 meter. Why? Because it is a time capsule hidden in plain sight. Inside you would find a copy of the Chronicles of the Clock Tower by Georgius Krauss as well as documents pertaining to the history of Sighisoara and that of the Transylvanian Saxons.
The Sphere, the Crescent and the Double-headed Eagle of Sighisoara
At the very top of the Clock Tower is a rooster weather-vane. But underneath, between the rooster and the golden sphere, now this is an entirely different story. We now see the double-headed eagle, a symbol of the Austrian Empire between 1867 and 1915. During the tower’s refurbishing from 1677 the three builder masters placed here a Turkish crescent, surely under political orders, meant to remind the people of Sighisoara of the Ottoman Empire’s ruling. The crescent got damaged in 1704 by local insurgents or curuti, from Hungarian kuruc. New work on the Clock Tower was only possible in 1776. Then the double-headed eagle, in a nod towards the Austrian Empire’s authority, replaced the crescent.
The roof, as we see it today, dates back to the 19th century. It uses hexagonal, glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white. Mostly birds, able to fly this high, can enjoy such intricate details.
Yes, we climbed to the very top, to the balcony you see above – the sixth level of the Clock Tower.
Imagine living here in the late Middle Ages. The Tower, the tallest structure for miles, protecting you, and beside the sun, the keeper of time and your only measure for the time of day and the day of the week. Yet the tower was much more than that, for during important celebrations an orchestra would climb to the balcony placed at its very top and perform music that reached every corner of the fortress as well as those living outside its walls, in the Lower City.
And looking up at this medieval giant you will want to watch out, as the slits and murder holes are still visible:
The two faces of Sighisoara’s Clock Tower
Well worth noticing as you journey towards and through the medieval city of Sighisoara are the two faces of the Clock Tower, on its fifth level.
The best feature of the Clock Tower is on the fifth level, its 17th-century clock mechanism. In 1648 craftsman Johann Kirtschel even improved its system. He included a minute hand, added quarter-hour chimes and the one-meter tall wooden statues representing the days of the week.
Facing the Upper City or the inner fortress we can see a niche carved in the tower, holding statues and located to the left side of the 2,4-meter diameter clock dial. Here, Peace holds a trumpet and an olive branch, near a Drummer who marks quarter hours and full hours. Also, two statues in blue dresses symbolize Righteousness, with her eyes covered, holding a raised wooden sword and Justice, with laurels on her head, holding a scale. Yes, here Righteousness has her eyes covered and not Justice.
Later, two more statues appeared here, placed right at the top, two angels. At 6 AM the Angel of Day shows up, with flames above his head, holding a burning heart, replaced at 6 PM by the Angel of the Night, holding a torch in each hand.
On the clock’s side facing the Lower City, we can admire a horse and a drummer as well as seven 80 cm tall statues depicting seven Roman gods, symbols of weekdays: Diana / Artemis, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the Sun.
The Seven Statues of Sighisoara’s Clock Tower
Diana / Artemis, the goddess of hunting, depicted in a blue dress holding a bow and arrow; she has a half-moon over her head, the alchemist’s symbol for silver. Mars / Ares god of war, holds a spear and wears a helmet with a feather, and above is the chemical symbol for iron, also a symbol for the star sign Ares. Mercury / Hermes, the god of commerce, holds a caduceus in his right hand and a bag with money in his left and has a pair of wings at his helmet and another pair at his heels. Above his head is the symbol for mercury or quicksilver – just like his temper.
Jupiter / Zeus, the god of sky and the King of gods, depicted with his right foot resting on a globe, holds a lightning rod in his right hand and a thunder in his left. Above his head we find the alchemy symbol for tin, looking like a 24. Venus / Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, has the alchemy’s symbol for copper, passion, above her head and a winged cupid. Saturn, the god of agriculture and abundance, has the symbol for lead above his head. Sun / Sol / Helios, depicted as a female goddess with a crown of golden rays, the symbol for gold.
The Warning Statue, a Vestige of Sighisoara’s Medieval Past
But the traveler is also warned on his journey, long before he approaches the medieval city of Sighisoara. Can you read the signs? Two lone statues are easily spotted underneath the seven peaceful ones, depicting days of the week and crafty symbols. One of these two statues is a drummer, matching the one on the other side of the clock tower, and hammering away as the bells chime. Lo and behold for next to him stands an executioner, who once held in his hands a whip and a hatchet…
Going up into the medieval Clock Tower of Sighisoara
220 years old, the Clock Tower’s museum is a place worth visiting. One can admire coins, weapons, medieval pharmacy equipment and a detailed layout of the fortress.
Up until 1566, the rooms located on the tower’s first floor accommodated the Council’s City Hall.
But what you do want to visit is the roofed gallery at the very top, hugging the clock tower all around.
Up here a 360 degrees panoramic view of Sighisoara unfolds in front of your eyes.
If you dare count, you will see over 150 medieval houses clustered in the old town, their red roofs and the stone-paved streets where once kings, artisans, and even Vlad Tepes strolled.
There, on the left, below, is the house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, was born. We’ll go there soon. Meanwhile, have you noticed the slanted roofs powdered with snow?
From the top of the Clock Tower, we even had a glimpse back in time, through the history of Sighisoara. The Church on the Hill, dating back to the beginning of the 14th century, was one of the first constructions the Transylvanian Saxons built:
From the Clock Tower’s top balcony one can get a panoramic view of the world as well. How good is your eyesight? Can you see as far as Moscow?
Measuring from the Clock Tower, Vienna is 656 km away, Rome 1.096 km, Paris 1.680 km, London 1.872 km, New York 7.431 km, Tokyo 8.890 km, and Sydney 15.438 km away.
It looks like someone has left a secret message for us. Can you decipher it?
As a child, Vlad would have played hide-and-seek through this passageway when he was a lad of five. Lucky times as later, during the 18th century, this small space became a prison. For when the Clock Tower was first built there were two dark passageways running through it – what better place for children to play?
After the great fire of 1676, when the tower was rebuilt, one of these passageways became a torture chamber / jail. In this very space the convicts had their hands and feet tied in chains. As a way of torture the convicts were tied to the infamy pole, in the city square, with 6 kilograms river stone hanging around their necks, for all to see.
Go ahead, take a peek:
I am sure that, as a child, Vlad would have engaged in snowball fights and even built animals out of snow. On the patch of snow you see above, we built a dragon to honor Vlad’s name derived from the Order of the Dragon awarded to his father:
I hope you enjoyed our journey through the medieval city Sighisoara thus far.
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.