The Rose of Sharon
The Rose of Sharon image was used by Saint Jerome and is taken from the Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs), “I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys” (2:1). These images suggested the Virgin Mary's purity and beauty. The image of a rose with petals not fully opened was connected to her virginity and youth. Just as young flower does not open completely until it has reached maturity, the Virgin Mary was chosen to become the Mother of God when she was still a pure, young girl.
There is some ambiguity surrounding this particular passage in the Song of Songs. The Song of Songs is a passionate love poem from the Old Testament. Traditional rabbinic Jewish interpretation understood it to symbolize the special relationship between God and Israel, while Christians have generally taken it to refer to the love between Jesus and the Church (as spoken of in Ephesians 5), or more recently, between Christ and the individual Christian soul. Many have also seen it as speaking of Mary's relationship to God.
Some of the confusion that has come about related to this poem is the fact that it can be difficult to parse out
The Rose of Sharon imagery is also a symbol for the bride. In this case, these references would have called Mary to mind as the spouse of the Holy Spirit, chosen by God for a very unique and significant purpose, set apart from the rest of creation, united to God through her perfect obedience.
Several centuries later, Saint Thèrèse of Lisieux picked up on this imagery when she wrote, “Thou art the flower with petals still unclosed; I gaze upon Thy beauty undefiled. Thou art the Rose of Sharon long foretold, Still in Thy glorious bud, Thou heavenly Child!” This reference can be confusing, because it sounds as if it is referring to Mary. But clearly, in this passage, it is only the final verses that refer to Mary. “Thy dearest Mother's arms, so pure and white, form for Thee now a royal cradle-throne; The morning sun is Mary's bosom bright, thy sunlit dew her virginal milk, my own!”
In the minds of the Church Fathers, Mary pulled together the disparate aspects of creation and wove them into a single seamless garment, bringing harmony to a world broken by sin. These images come together beautifully in the seventeenth century when Johannes Scheffler, under the penname Angelus Silesius, wrote, “Ark, fortress, tower, house, garden, mirror, fountain; The sea, a star, the moon, the rose of dawn, a mountain; She is another world so can be all things freely.”
These images provide just a sampling of the many visual images that were used both by early Christians and during the medieval period to point to the multiple connections between the Old and New Testaments, and the ways in which these images come together in representations of Mary. All of these images serve to create a rich tapestry of belief that provides a helpful backdrop for understanding the multiple facets of devotion to Mary.