Garden Way of the Cross

A number of flowers with old religious names are accompanied by delightful legends woven around their symbolism. The legends served as vehicles by which their symbolism was passed on from parent to child, from generation to generation - as part of the teaching of religion before the days of printing and catechisms.

When the religious plant names were written down from oral traditions, however - most of them by folklorists and botanists, to whom we owe profound thanks for their preservation - many of the associated legends were lost. As one writer has observed, these missing legends are like petals which have been blown away from the flowers, which through pious reflection we are to attempt to rediscover and restore today.

One restoration of such legends, both as preserved and as recreated, is found in the booklet of flower meditations, "The Garden Way of the Cross," written in 1993 for the Mary Garden of St. Catherine of Siena Church, Portage, Michigan by Father Thomas A. Stanley, S.M., Pastor of St. Catherine's until 1996.

This meditative booklet was inspired by a large wooden cross at the west end of the Mary Garden (which extends along the entire south side of the church), installed there as a memorial of the 1983 Holy Year. In that year Pope John Paul II declared the privileges and graces available to those making Holy Year pilgrimages to Rome to be available also to those visiting their parish churches for the Holy Year intentions. As part of the celebration of this, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, in conjunction with the Edward L. Koenig Council No. 6980 of the Knights of Columbus, placed the outdoor cross where it stands today in the Mary Garden.

The presence of the cross recalls and continues the medieval custom of planting crosses in fields, for which the following blessing from the Roman Rite was employed:

Blessing of Crosses to be Set in Fields, Vineyards, etc.
(Performed on the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, or on the following Sunday.)

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who has made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Almighty, everlasting God, Father of all consolation and kindness, through the merits of the bitter passion of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which He was so kind as to undergo for us sinners on the wood of the cross, bless these crosses, which your people will take from here to set in gardens, vineyards, fields or other places, so that the farms on which they are set up may be free from the crushing of hail, the violence of tornadoes, the power of storms, and from every disturbance of the enemy. May then their produce by brought to full ripeness, and gathered in honor of your name by those who trust in the power of the holy cross of the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and is King with you for ever and ever.

R. Amen

(And they are sprinkled with holy water.)

One plant legend of special relevance to Christ's Cross is that of the herb, basil (Ocimum basilicum) which was held to be of such close association with the Cross that St. Helena was able to find the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a colony of basil plants. We know of the association through St. Helena, but just what the legend, the "fallen petal," was is not known to us. Possibly it was one of the plants which was reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where Christ's blood drops or Mary's tears fell, as is reported in legends of other plants. Or it may have been offered to Christ as a soothing herb. Another "fallen petal" is the use of "basilica" as the name for the cross-shaped floor plans of church buildings. Also, from the practice in some areas of strewing branches of basil before church communion rails it came to be known as "Holy Communion plant."

In composing "The Garden Way of the Cross" in 1993, Father Stanley drew on the religious flower names and legends which have been part of his reflection ever since he established the Mary Garden at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at Dayton, Ohio, in 1954 - believed to be the first such Shrine Mary Garden in the U. S.

The flower symbols of Our Lady's Life and mysteries, and their interpretive legends, can be considered according to five groupings:

  • those of the virtues and excellences of Mary associated with her Immaculate Conception and maidenly spirituality;
  • those of the Joyful mysteries of the Annunciation, Visitation and the Sacred Nativity;
  • those of the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth;
  • those of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Jesus' Passion and Cross;
  • those of the Glorious Mysteries of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and Mary's heavenly Assumption, Spiritual Maternity, Advocacy, Mediation and Queenship.

Father Stanley's illuminative incorporation of flower symbols and legends of the Sorrowful Mysteries in the fourteen stations of the Way of the Cross is instructive as how the other flower symbols and legends of Our Lady can be likewise incorporated in our meditations on the other mysteries of Mary's inimate motherly union and close cooperation with the saving work of her Divine Son and Lord.

It is to be kept in mind that flowers are encountered and their symbolism reflected on in nature, and also in the Mary Garden, one plant, grouping or colony at a time, while one pauses in meditation. This information booklet and meditation-aid is therefore to be used primarily as a source of information for subsequent reflection in nature or the garden (or indoors before dish gardens or house plants) - just as the Mary Garden Prayer is to be prayed before flowers, trees, shrubs and grasses.

In preparation for this it is suggested that in printing out this booklet from your web browser, supplementary printings be made of each flower graphic, so they can be viewed and reflected upon individually, in a virtual garden, after becoming familiar with their symbolism from the text. Also, the dish Mary Garden graphic at the head of this web page can be printed out separately and reflected upon, one flower symbol at a time, as would be done in an outdoor Mary Garden or an actual dish Mary Garden.