Cyclamen Persicum—The Flower of Mary’s Agony

The Persian Cyclamen (Cyclamen Persicum) may be modest in stature and humble in appearance, but this little flower has an intimate connection to the Virgin Mother in its shape, coloring and even delicate scent.

The shape is said to represent a girl humbly bowing her head among rocks. This image, of a bowing head, has become a symbol of the Pietà, the artistic depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus. The head titled downwards expresses grief and agony while the heart-shaped leaves represent Mary’s aching heart.

The red stain at the edges of the blossoms symbolize Mary’s “bleeding” heart. As Simeon prophesied, “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:35).

Even the smell is connected to Mary. One of the Arabic names of the flower is bakhur Miriam—Mary’s incense.

This deep connection to the Virgin explains why vases brimming with cyclamen are often found in churches dedicated to Mary.

The cyclamen is also associated with King Solomon who wore a crown decorated with cyclamen blossoms—giving the flower one of its Hebrew names Netzer Shlomo (King Solomon’s Crown).

According to legend, Solomon’s crown accompanied the Jews into exile after the destruction of the First Temple. But, the flowers were so upset at the loss of the Temple they bent their heads in sorrow and will only rise again when a son of David is on the throne and the crown returned to Jerusalem.

Despite its association with sorrow and agony, in 2007, the cyclamen (rakefet in Hebrew) became Israel’s national flower. It is such an integral part of Israel’s culture there is even a song dedicated to it (see the translated lyrics here).

During the times of its peak blossoming time from January to March, millions of people head out into nature to enjoy the carpets of delicate white, pink and purple blooms. While one of the best—and most popular—viewing spots is at Cyclamen Hill in Ramot Menashe Park, near Megiddo, the shy, modest cyclamen can be found dotted among the rocks throughout the country.

Find out more in Sacred Flowers, Holy Trees & Blessed Thorns: Fifty Plants in the Life of Jesus by Ami Tamir. 

Danielle Max


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