Rosa Mystica

Q: What is the origin and meaning of the expression Mystical Rose (Rosa mystica)?

A: Since antiquity the rose was considered a symbol of mystery, for early Christians the rose is a visual expression for paradise (Catacombs of Callixtus, third century) but also for martyrdom (Cyprian, Ep. 10). The Marian interpretation of this symbol dates to the fifth century Sedulius Caelius. He is probably the first to call Mary a "rose among thorns." (Carmen paschale II, 28-31) Theophanes Graptos (Monk and metropolite of Nikaia, +845) uses the same symbolism to express Mary's purity and the fragrance of her grace (Oktoechos, Friday of the sixth week). Frequent Marian references to rose and rosebush were made in medieval times with special reference to Isaiah 11:1 ("...a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse / and from his roots a bud shall blossom."). This typology is very old. We find it in Tertullian (Adv. Judaeos, 9) and Ambrosius (Exp. Gr. Luc. II, 24). For these authors the root is a reference to the davidic genealogy, the sprout (virga, bush) is Mary, and Christ is the flower (rose). Medieval authors had a second source for their use of mystical rose: the verse from Sir. 24, 14 ("like a palm tree in Engedi, like a rosebush in Jericho") which makes reference to God-graced fertility and growth, again a reference to the mysterious generation of Christ from the womb of Mary. It is based on these two traditions that the expression rosa mystica was coined by the author of the Litanies of Loreto, and subsequently used in hymns ("Es ist ein Ros....") and art (center of the labyrinth of Chartres).

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