The Rose of Sharon, although apparently written about in the Bible perhaps 3,000 years ago, has paradoxically only been around for approximately 400 years.
When the King James Bible was compiled in 1611, it seems the Hebrew 'chabatstseleth', meaning 'crocus', was mistranslated as 'rose'1. Quite possibly the original author meant 'gladioli' or 'tulip', which grew profusely in the forest plain of Sharon. (Not so many wild flowers there these days - Sharon is now the most densely populated region of Israel.)
But 'Crocus of Sharon' just doesn't sound right2 and as everyone knows, tulips come from Amsterdam. So 'Rose of Sharon' stays, even if it isn't botanically correct.
The name is given to several different plants, the most common being Hibiscus syriacus and the unrelated Hypericum calycinum. The former is the national flower of South Korea, called mugunghwa, which stems from the word mugung, meaning 'immortality'. In Korea, this flower is symbolic of the royal family; just as the rose has been used by monarchies around the world for centuries. Indeed, when the King James Bible was being compiled, the monarch used the Tudor Rose within his emblem. One wonders whether the Bible's English translators were influenced by this regal connection when re-writing King Solomon's words.
Roses are favoured by lovers. It is no surprise that in America, 34% of the annual sale of roses coincides with Valentine's Day (which leads to our favourite funny little story.)
Roses can be used as a Vitamin C supplement in herbal tea; not the petals but the reddish / orange pomaceous fruit (the rose hip). A similar herb is St. John's Wort3.
Thus far, we have connected the rose to immortality, royalty, love and medicine... before we even look at what the book of Solomon says.
The Rose of Sharon in Solomon 2 is used to describe the beauty of a young woman and the love toward her. This is understood by Jews to allegorically represent the 'husband and wife' relationship between God and Israel. Christians similarly understand it as the relationship between Christ and the Church, or with focus on the femininity, Marian. And from here we move on to the Rose of Sharon Cross.
Whilst Christian theologians might consider the 'rose' to be a figurative reference to the Church or the Virgin Mary, hymn writers have confused the issue by calling Jesus the Rose of Sharon. One reason might have been that after the Protestant Reformation, attempts were made to focus more on Jesus and less on His Mother. The rose happens to be a beautiful flower, and since Jesus Christ is tops when it comes to spiritual beauty and majesty, referring to Jesus as the Rose of Sharon is not entirely mysterious. Rose hips are associated with medicinal healing, and Christ's spiritual healing properties were the very reason for Jesus coming to earth 2,000 years ago.
The five petals on the Rose of Sharon remind us of the five wounds of Passion Jesus suffered on the cross. And of course, Christ rose from death, a pun which reminds us of the meaning of the cross.
Our Rose of Sharon Cross image (above) has been copied from a pendant unearthed by a young girl several years ago. The original owner of this treasure is a mystery; the girl found it in the garden of her home, a house that her father had built on virgin land. The cross appears to be Victorian and made from a mixture of silver and pewter, a traditional alloy for Celtic jewellery.
The chain is quite long (880 mm) and the cross is rather weighty (63 g with the chain) and large (75 mm x 55 mm x 6 mm). This makes the piece more like a ceremonial / religious Pectoral Cross than simply a piece of decorative jewellery. The floral design is on both back and front of the cross. (If anybody recognises this as a cross from a particular religious order, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org)
A distinctive five-petalled Rose of Sharon can be seen in the centre, plus tulip-shaped Rose of Sharon buds, symbolising new birth, and by extension, the resurrection of Christ. The fleur de lis at the cross arm ends are quite unique, with its lily petals arranged like feather plumes, as a chieftain would wear, and they form a crown, making it all very majestic. This, of course, symbolizes of Christ the King.
We mentioned earlier the Rose association with Mary and we end this tale of the young girl's cross with a little twist:
The name of the girl is Rosemary.