Why There are Roses

March 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.

A couple more tidbits from this:

Probably my favorite of Sir John’s stories so far appears in chapter 9, which treats of Bethlehem and the scenery between it and Jerusalem. Here it is in full, after a description of a church outside of Bethlehem:

Between this church and the city is the field Floridus; it is called the ‘Field of Flowers’ because a young maiden was falsely accused of fornication, for which cause she was to have been burnt in that place. She was led thither and bound to the stake and faggots of thorns and other wood were laid round her. When she saw the wood begin to burn, she prayed to Our Lord that as she was not guilty of that crime He would help and save her, so that all men might know it. When she had thus prayed, she entered into the fire — and immediately it went out, and those branches that were alight became red rose-trees, and those that had not caught became white ones, full of blooms.  And those were the first roses and rose-bushes that were ever seen.  And thus was the maiden saved by the grace of God.

Now that’s excellent.  If God were always (or even occasionally) that whimsical, merciful, just, and available, who could help but worship him?

In chapter 10 we get a discussion of Saint Helena’s discovery of the cross, an important medieval legend I’d not known of before.  Saint Helena was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, and was charged with discovering relics in Jerusalem shortly after Constantine Christianized the Roman empire.  According to Mandeville, she found the three crosses (of Jesus and the two thieves) hidden underground by the Jews.  To determine which cross was Christ’s, she had each one placed in turn on a dead man.  Christ’s cross brought him back to life.  (I think an alternate version of the legend says that it was just a sick man that was healed.  I kind of like the drama of finding a dead man to test the crosses on, though.  What experimental rigor!)

Helena also found the nails from the cross nearby, and the bridle of Constantine’s war-horse was made from one of them; hence the might of his army.

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