The Cedar of Lebanon and Mary

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: How is the cedar tree a symbol of Mary?

A: The cedar is a well-known symbol of Mary; it is not an object that gave rise to an official or even important title of Mary, meaning a name under which Our Lady would have been invoked for her intercession and help. There are no known miraculous images of Mary responding to this name or title. But the cedar tree became a well known symbol for Mary during the middle ages.

The cedar tree is a tree planted by God (Psalm 104:16, Isaiah 41:19). It is considered to be the first of trees (1 Kings 4:33). The Bible describes the cedar tree as strong and durable (Isaiah 9:10), graceful and beautiful (Psalm 80:10, Ezekiel 17:23), high and tall (Amos 2:9, Ezekiel 17:22), fragrant (Song of Songs 4:11) and spreading wide (Psalm 80:10-11). The eagle makes its nest and perches in the high branches of the cedar trees (Jeremiah 22:23, Ezekiel 17:3-5).

Cedar wood was imported by King Solomon (1 Kings 10:27, 1 Kings 5:10-11). It was widely used in building temples (1 Kings 5:5, 1 Kings 6:9-10), palaces (2 Samuel 5:11, 1 Kings 7:2-3) and ships (Ezekiel 27:5). Phoenicians have sailed across the world using ships built from cedar wood. King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon (Song of Solomon 3:9). The cedar wood that was used to prepare the water of separation and to purify leprosy (Leviticus 14:4-7, Leviticus 14:49-52) is illustrative of powerful nations (Ezekiel 31:3, Amos 2:9), the flourishing of saints (Psalm 92:12) and the majesty, strength and glory of Christ (Song of Solomon 5:15, Ezekiel 17:22-23). The cedar tree is mentioned 72 times in the Bible.

The Cedar Tree and Mary

The litanies of the Virgin Mary in Lebanon add the invocation "Cedar of Lebanon, pray for us." It is known that cedar trees grow best in deep soil where their roots have access to water. Banks of rivers are favorable to their growth (Numbers 24:6). Such is the case with the millenary forest of the cedars of God in Besharry, which stands above the sources of he river of Kadisha, a syriac word that means holy. It is no surprise then to call the Virgin Mary "the Cedar of Lebanon." Her roots are deep into the earth of Lebanon, which has been considered by Pope John Paul II to be much more than a country, but a message. The cedar of Lebanon has been the national emblem of Mary in the heart of Lebanon, known for its diversity and non-Christian environment. The branches of the cedars withstand the changes of the seasons just as the beauty and grace of the Virgin remains unchanged.

The evergreen cedar tree is a symbol of endurance, eternal life and immortality. One wouldn't be surprised to find out that ancient civilizations, particularly Egyptians, used cedar resin to mummify their dead. Cedar sawdust was discovered in pharaohs' tombs.

On August 6th every year, Christians celebrate the feast day of Christ's transfiguration and the cedars of Lebanon have always been the place to celebrate this occasion. It is not known whether Christ's transfiguration occurred in the cedars of Lebanon, but through tradition and due to the majesty and pure silence of the mountain peaks where they stand, one cannot but link Christ's transfiguration with the cedars of Lebanon. The age of many of the cedar trees in Lebanon, most particularly in Besharry, goes back hundreds of years prior to Christ's incarnation.

cedrus exaltata

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