A well-known English plant, the Helleborus niger or "Christmas Rose," is a true Christmas flower. Sometimes known as the "Snow Rose" or "Winter Rose," it blooms during the depths of winter in the mountains of Central Europe. One of the easiest and most rewarding of garden plants to grow, the ability of the Christmas Rose to bloom during the darkest months of the year when everything else is frozen solid, makes it a valuable asset to any garden. The Christmas Rose produces flowers from late Fall until early Spring. These evergreen perennials grow to be approximately 15 inches tall and have shiny, dark green leaves of a leathery texture. Each flower stalk bears a single 2 inch to 4 inch white bloom (often tinged with pink).
By tradition, the Christmas Rose (whose roots are poisonous) should be planted by the door in order that it might welcome Jesus Christ into the home.
LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS ROSE
The Legend of the Christmas Rose is a charming tale of a little shepherd girl named Madelon.
As Madelon tended to her sheep one cold and wintry night, Wise Men and shepherds passed by Madelon's snow-covered field bearing gifts for the Christ Child. Following, Madelon saw the Magi present gold, myrrh and frankincense to the baby...even the humble shepherds had brought fruits, honey and doves to give to the babe...but Madelon had nothing, not even a simple flower for the Newborn King. Standing outside the stable where Jesus had been born, poor Madelon wept, wishing that she had a gift she could carry to the infant. A watching Angel, taking pity on Madelon, caused the snow at the feet of the small girl feet to vanish, thus revealing a most beautiful white flower whose petals were tipped with pink, formed by the Angel from the tears which had fallen from the eyes of the little shepherdess. Overjoyed, Madelon presented her gift at the manger of the baby Jesus...her gift of the Christmas Rose.
The Christmas Rose is also associated with Saint Agnes, Patroness of Purity, Chastity, Betrothed Couples, Virgins and Rape Victims.
Saint Agnes is honored as one of the four great virgin martyrs of the Christian Church. She was beheaded at the age of 12 or 13 early in the Fourth Century during the reign of Diocletian, the Roman emperor who ordered the last great persecution of Christians which began in early 303 A.D. Having no desire to marry, Saint Agnes was prepared to die for the sake of her faith and virginity as the "Bride of Christ" rather than become the wife of a Roman prefect's son.
Saint Agnes is among the most widely honored of Roman martyrs and one of the most popular Christian saints. After her death, she was buried in her parents' household cemetery located a short distance from the city limits of Rome. Initially, a modest chapel was placed over the saint's grave but after Christianity became one of the lawful religions of the Roman Empire, the shrine of Saint Agnes was enlarged and transformed. According to legend, Constantina (the oldest of Constantine's daughters by his first wife, Fausta) was afflicted with leprosy and reputedly cured of the disease after praying Saint Agnes's tomb.
The shrine, known today as the "Basilica of Saint Agnes Outside the Walls," is famous for its mosaics, galleried nave and for housing the relics of the saint in an ornate silver sarcophagus solidly encased beneath the altar.
Saint Agnes has played a prominent role in Christian art, frequently depicted as a young woman bearing a palm leaf or sword while cradling a lamb. The symbolism of the lamb is suggested both by her innocence and purity...the Latin word for "lamb" is agnus. The association of Saint Agnes with the Christmas Rose is one of purity, represented by the flower's delicate white blossoms.
The Feast of Saint Agnes (celebrated on January 21st) is marked every year in Rome with a custom which is rich in symbolism and tradition. Two very young lambs from the sheepfold belonging to the Trappist Fathers of the Monastery of Tre Fontane near Saint Paul's Basilica are crowned and placed in straw baskets, which have been carefully decorated with red and white flowers and streamers: red standing for the martyrdom of Saint Agnes, and white for her purity. The lambs are then taken to the Basilica of Saint Agnes where a solemn feast day Mass is held. Shortly after, a procession composed of young girls in white dresses and veils...as well as carabinieri in uniforms and hats of red and blue...bear the lambs upon their shoulders and proceed down the center aisle. The lambs are ceremoniously incensed and blessed before being shown to the Pope at the Vatican and finally given over to the care of the Benedictine Nuns of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, who rear them until Maundy Thursday, at which time they are sheared.
From the wool of the lambs are woven approximately 12 pallia a year, made by the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. The pallium is an article of ecclesiastical apparel consisting of a narrow circular band of white wool embroidered with six small crosses, bearing a weighted pendant in the front and in the back. The garment is slipped over the head and hangs down, front and back, in the shape of a "Y," thereby draping the shoulders and symbolic of the sheep carried by the Good Shepherd. The pallium is worn during ceremonies by the Pope, metropolitan archbishops and patriarchs. Until an archbishop receives a pallium, he may not exercise metropolitan jurisdiction, and if he should be transferred to a new archdiocese, then he must request a new pallium. All archbishops are buried with their pallia, which are received directly from the Pope.