Altar border

Commentary on the ‘Altar border’ as written by Jill Stewart

All the species in this design are related to the Virgin Mary in terms of folklore and medieval interpretation. The flowers would have been picked and used for altar decorations throughout the church’s seasons (St. Mary de Haura, 2014).


In sequence along the bed from the west end:

Primula vulagaris
Primulus vulgaris

The primrose was used for altar decoration in spring. Medieval Latin – the first rose, referring to the first flower in spring.

Helleborus niger
Helleborus niger 

The Lenten or Christmas rose. An early spring bloom that is said to flower on Christmas Day to honour Christ’s Birthday.

Viola odorata
Viola odorata

The heart shaped leaves and scent suggest modesty and innocence. “Our Lady’s Modesty”.

Alchemilla vulgaris
Alchemilla vulgaris

‘Our Lady’s mantle’ – the leaves provide a non–wetting surface felt to be suitable as a cloak.

Galanthus nivalis
Galanthus nivalis

“Our Lady’s Bells”. Snowdrops are usually flowering on 2 February, which is the date of Candlemas.

Lilium candidum
Lilium candidum

White petals and golden stamen were heralded by the Venerable Bede to represent Mary’s purity and radiance. The lily was commonly included in medieval paintings depicting the Virgin Mary.

Dianthus caryophyllus

‘Gilly’ flower. Regarded as a symbol of the Virgin Mary.

Calendula officinalis

Marigold. ‘Mary’s Gold’. This plant supplies an orange /yellow dye.

Viola tricolor
Viola tricolor

Known as ‘Heartsease’ or ‘Herb Trinity’. The latter refers to the three colours of purple, white and yellow in each flower and seen in paintings of the Virgin Mary.

Iris germanica

The sword shaped leaves of the iris are reputed to remind one of the sorrows that ‘pierced Mary’s heart’ when told of Simeon’s prophesy for Christ.

Lily of the valley
Convallaria majalis

Lily of the Valley or ‘Our Lady’s Tears’. This flower is said to have grown where Mary wept. The flower is used as decoration in the Lady Chapel of churches.

Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary. The pale blue blooms are said to refer to the colour of Mary’s veil.