Thursday, 19 January 2012


“If you would be loved, love, and be loveable” - Benjamin Franklin
A yellow rose, Rosa spp, is today’s birthday flower. It symbolises jealousy and infidelity.  In the language of flowers a yellow rose means: “Let us forget” and may be symbolic of dying love, especially if full-blown.  A rose thorn is symbolic of sin, death and pain.  In the last few decades, the yellow rose has lost some of its old negative meaning and is now more associated with the positive symbolism of happiness, return to the good times and joy about to be fulfilled. This is perhaps influenced by the meaning of the yellow ribbon tied around a tree. The custom of tying a yellow ribbon around a tree to symbolise waiting love seems to go back at least as far as the days of Nero. A recently unearthed villa (thought to be that of Nero’s wife) in Pompeii and covered by the Mt Vesuvius eruption of AD 79 contains a mural depicting a man standing at a tree with a yellow ribbon tied around it.

Today is St Agnes’s Eve, and on this eve, young women used to take their shoes put a sprig of rosemary in one, a sprig of thyme in the other, sprinkle them with water, place them one on each side of their bed and say:
            St Agnes, that’s to lovers kind,
            Come ease the trouble of my mind.
They would then dream of their future husband.

Today is also St Sebastian’s Feast Day, this saint being the patron saint of athletes. St Sebastian was born in France of Italian parents in the 3rd century AD. So as to help his fellow Christians who were dying as martyrs he went to Rome and enlisted as an officer, becoming a great favourite of the emperor Diocletian. He converted many to Christianity until he was betrayed to the emperor by a false friend. Diocletian tried to make him change his faith but Sebastian was not to be shaken. The emperor ordered his archers to execute the Saint. Although every part of his body was pierced by arrows and the soldiers left him for dead, Sebastian was alive. A kindly widow, Irene, nursed him back to health and Sebastian went back to the emperor, urging him to stop his persecution of the Christians. Diocletian was intransigent and ordered a new martyrdom for Sebastian. The Saint was clubbed to death in the amphitheatre (hence the connection with athletes). Saint Sebastian is buried in the Roman catacombs.

St Sebastian seems to have been a firm favourite of artists over the centuries and there are numerous works of art depicting the martyrdom of the saint with arrows piercing him. In these paintings and sculptures the saint is depicted as handsome man in the prime of his youth, underlining the association with athletes.

The painting above is Gerrit van Honthorst’s (1592 – 1656) “Saint Sebastian”. This artist was a Dutch Golden Age painter from Utrecht.

feast day |ˈfis(t) ˌdeɪ| noun
A day on which a celebration, esp. an annual Christian one, is held.
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French feste (noun), fester (verb), from Latin festa, neuter plural of festus ‘joyous.’
Old English: dæg, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch dag and German Tag .


  1. I have seen many painterly, monumental versions of the St Sebastian story, particularly by Pietro Perugino, Guido Reni and Paul Delaroche. But your version by Gerrit van Honthorst is probably the most powerful of all; almost Caravaggesque.

    One painter was somewhat less successful with St Sebastian, in my opinion, and that was El Greco.

    St Sebastian certainly was a young, handsome and athletic man. So it may have been a great opportunity for artists to depict an almost naked male body, with rippling peccs.

  2. well look at that - another owl!

    John Keat's poem, The Eve of St Agnes starts like this...

    St Agnes' Eve---Ah, bitter chill it was!

    The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;