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A Lily of the Valley starting to flower just before 1 May in the Bastide les Amis garden

 

The Symbolism of the Merguet or Lily of the Valley

At the beginning of the 20th century it became tradition in France to sell lily of the valley on international labour day, May 1, by labour organisations and private persons without paying sales tax (on that day only) as a symbol of spring. 

The flower is also known as Our Lady’s tears or Mary’s tears from Christian legends that it sprang from the weeping of the Virgin Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. Other fables have its coming into being from Eve’s tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden or from the blood shed by Saint Leonard of Noblac during his battles with a dragon.

The name “lily of the valley” is used in some English translations of the Bible in Song of Songs 2:1, but the Hebrew phrase “shoshannat-ha-amaqim” in the original text (literally “lily of the valleys”) does not refer to this plant. It is possible, though, that the biblical phrase may have had something to do with the origin or development of the modern plant-name.

It is a symbol of humility in religious painting. Lily of the valley is considered the sign of Christ’s second coming. The power of men to envision a better world was also attributed to the lily of the valley.

Its scientific name, majalis or maialis, means “of or belonging to May”, and old astrological books place the plant under the dominion of Mercury, since Maia, the daughter of Atlas, was the mother of Mercury or Hermes.

In the “language of flowers”, the lily of the valley signifies the return of happiness. Legend tells of the affection of a lily of the valley for a nightingale that did not come back to the woods until the flower bloomed in May.

Lily of the valley has been used in weddings, although it can be very expensive. Lily of the valley was featured in the bridal bouquet at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Lily of the valley was also the flower chosen by Princess Grace Kelly to be featured in her bridal bouquet.

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