Page 4, 30th March 1956

30th March 1956
Page 4
Page 4, 30th March 1956 — PAPAL TOKEN OF THE GOLDEN ROSE

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Organisations: Church of Santa Croce


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by S. G. A. LUFF

'WHEN Bishop Portunatus of Poitiers wrote to Queen Radegund, the Abbess of Holy Cross, which he did mostly in verse, he seldom left for long the subject of flowers. Although " Saint" prefixes his name, Fortunatus chose the comfortable paths of life, hut even the most austere saints, like Bernard and John of the Cross, rejoiced in the symbolism of nature.

The Church is deep in the heart of her own tradition when in the midst of the violet sorrows of Lent, she turns on its fourth Sunday to a momentary anticipation of the Resurrection, choosing for a symbol of joy the colour of the rose. But at Rome there is besides the venerable tradition of a rose of pure gold, formerly blessed by the Pontiff in the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. and then carried in his left hand as he rode back to his palace.

The Prefect of Rome meanwhile held the bridle, and finally helped the Pope to dismount, • receiving the rose as a token of regard. During the residence of the Popes at Avignon the ceremonies had all to be concluded in the papal chepel, so there was no bridle to hold as a service meriting such high reward, and accordingly the rose came to be given to the most deserving prince at hand.

Such is the origin commonly explained of the gift of the Golden Rose, awarded at rare intervals by the Pope to some church or sanctuary, city or crowned head, hut it is not quite a satisfactory one, for there are recorded gifts of the Rose long before the residence at Avignon.

The earliest reference dates from 1051, but it only supposes a greater antiquity. In that year Pope Leo IX imposed on the Abbess of Woffenheim, as the price of some privilege, the obligation of furnishing the Popes with a Golden Rose in time for Laetare Sunday. that being the clay on which they were accustomed to carry it. There are in fact several known recipients of the eleventh and twelth centuries: Urban 11 sent a Rose to Count Fulk of Anjou during the preparations for the First Crusade in 1096; Alfonso, King of Castile was a recipient in 1148 and Louis VII of France in 1163. William the Lion of Scotland was sent a Golden Rose in 1182 as a peace offering to patch up a quarrel over the vexatious question of episcopal appointments.


IN Reformation times Popes seem to have sent the Rose rather desperately to buy the good offices of Catholic princes in the struggle against Protestantism. Betwixt Luther's 98 Theses and his formal excommunication and outlawry there were moments when he might almost have been won over to Catholic obedience. Karl von Miltitz, a papal chamberlain, was sent with the Golden Rose to buy off the protection of the Elector

of Saxony. In fact, Miltitz took much of the diplomacy into his own hands and extracted from Luther a public e Inetruction considerably modifying the force of his attack, and a letter of apology to the Pope. liut the heresiarch was too volatile to pursue en mild a course for long and the mission was fruitless.

At that time the most promising champion of the Church was the young Henry VIII, who duly received no less than three Golden Roses, from Julius II, Leo and Clement Vii respectively, the last In recognition of his antiLutheran book in defence of the seven Sacraments. If these precious tokens were expected to buy Henry's fidelity, Vatican diplomacy misfired, for the Tudor heart was soon Set elsewhere. In fact, we may alt learn a moral from these roses of the renaissance, and consider with greater satisfaction others given to more deserving subjects.

Our saintly Henry VI, whose cause was advanced in Henry VIII's reign but lapsed on account of the schism, received the Golden Rose after a devotional honeymoon with Margaret of Anjou, during which he visited numerous monasteries and ended up at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Isabella of Spain, whose service to the Church no one doubts, was the recipient, in 1493, from Alexander VI. Mary Tudor was presented with a Golden Rose by .Tutius III in 1555 to mark the reconciliation of England with the Holy See, and Mary Stuart by Pope Paul IV in 1561. the year of her accession.


A nother deserving monarch was Emmanuel the Great of Portugal, who had the distinction of receiving two roses in succession from Leo X in reward for his service to the church at home and in his newly won dominions in Africa and India, perhaps too in return for his gift of a remarkable menagery which included a white elephant trained to genuflect three times before the Sovereign Pontiff.

When John Sobieski saved the gates of Europa by driving the Turk from Vienna in 1684, Innocent XI showed his appreciation by sending the Golden Rose to his queen, Mary Casimir, for the sentiment 'now began to prevail that ladies were more suitable donees for floral tokens. Papal selection would have been sadly at fault if the holy, valiant and unfortunate Maria Theresa had not received the Rose in 1630.

It is a little odd that throughout the nineteenth century the Rose should have gone almost exclusively to the Queens of Spain and Portugal, with a change-over to the Queens of the Belgians at the end of the century. Perhaps the Iberian peninsula was one of the few parts of the world considered still thoroughly loyal to Church and Pope in those years of nationalist and secularist struggle, One of the most unexpected gifts of the Golden Rost! in English History is that to Queen Henrietta Matia, wife of King Charles I, after the wading by proxy in Paris, before she so much as saw her country or assumed her crown. The union of an English King with a Catholic Princess was inevitably a delicate matter. Even Richelieu's diplomacy had been heavily taxed to secure a dispensation in time. The wedding was finally celebrated before the west doors of Notre Dame, the Due de Chevrettse standing for the King. The presentation of the Golden Rose bY Urban VIII's legate took place at Amiens in the presence of two other queens, Marie de Medici and Anna of Austria.


THE earliest references and some known mediaeval instances lead us to assume that the rose was at first one bloom of pure gold. The petals Were tinted red, but in the fifteenth century this symbolism was replaced by that of a ruby hidden in the heart of the rose, and the adornment of its petals with gems.

Certainly by this time the rose had grown into a bush with many blossoms, of which only one received the special attention of a solemn papal blessing and the insertion of musk and balsam.

A few survive; in the Cluny Museum at Paris, at Captta, Vienna, Madrid and Venice. Even

England, however, has the distinction of possessing a Golden Rose, that sent by Pope Pius IX in 1856 to Eugenic, the Empress of Napoleon III, on the occasion of the birth of her son Louis. Prince Imperial, who later lost his life in tragic circumstances fighting for Britain in the Zulu War.

After the fall of the Second Empire. Eugenie sought exile in England and built herself a church and mausoleum at Farnborough. Hampshire, to serve which she secured the services of a colony of French Benedictines from Solesmes. The Community has now been replaced by White Benedictines from Prinknash, but the Golden Rose remains in their custody. It stands almost two feet high in its vase, bearing over two dozen roses in bud and flower. all of pure gold, The vase. in clas. sical design, surmounts a base bearing the Papal and Imperial arms repeated in tiniest mosaic.

If the poetry of Innocent HI is not too extravagant, when he tells us the rose symbolises love after hate, joy after sorrow, fulness after hunger, then its substance is something we may all hope for, leaving to this distinguished &lie the rare possession of its golden shadow.

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