Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Fleur-de-Lis

Fleur-de-Lis is literally translated from French as "lily flower", and is widely thought to be a stylized version of the Iris and not the Lily. There are various legends of how the Iris came to represent the French monarchy. One is that Clovis who, in 496, is said to have abandoned the three toads on his banner in favour of the fleur-de-lis. His Christian Queen, Clotilda, had long sought to convert her heathen husband but he always ignored her plea. Then faced with a formidable army of Alamanni, the Germanic tribe invading his kingdom, he told his wife that if he won the coming battle he would admit that her God was strongest and be baptised. He did win and the toads disappeared from his banner and were replaced by the fleur de lis.

The other legend is that 1147 Louis VII had a dream that convinced him to adopt the purple iris as his device shortly before setting out for his ill-fated crusade. The iris was so powerful a symbol of the French kings that the Revolutionaries in 1789 set out to totally obliterate it the symbol of the hated monarchy. It was chipped off buildings and torn from draperies. Men were guillotined for wearing a fleur-de-lis on their clothes or as jewellery.

The Iris's history is rich, dating back to Ancient Greek times when the Greek Goddess Iris, the messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead in their journey.
The root of the Iris is known as orris root and in France it was hung in wine casks to enrich the bouquet of the wine. It was used as a perfume for linen and is mentioned in 1480 in the wardrobe accounts of Edward IV. Orris root also was important to the new high hair fashions that at one time towered two feet off the ladies foreheads. They were powered with orris root which was added as a perfume to flour or starch. One of the complaints of the hungry peasants in France was that so much of the flour they needed for food went to dress the hair of the nobility.

The meanings of the iris has come to include faith, hope, and wisdom. Depending on factors such as colour and region, irises may bear additional meanings as well. In some parts of the world, the dark blue or purple iris can denote royalty, whereas the yellow iris can be a symbol of passion. Irises may also express courage and admiration.

No comments: