Queen Victoria wearing her wedding veil, 1847.
[From Queen Victoria – Her Life in Dress” Exhibition, Kensington Palace]
Simply the fragrances of flowers and the aromatic oils in the leaves of treasured plants — with their sensual yet other worldly effects — have been enough to launch legends throughout history. Take myrtle, Myrtus communis Associated with both Aphrodite and Venus — the Greek and Roman goddesses of beauty, love, laughter, protection and joy — this tender perennial of Mediterranean origin is considered botanical royalty.
In Greek mythology, myrtle, with its small creamy-white fragrant blossoms, represented the goddess Aphrodite and adorned the Three Graces, her attendants who were symbolic of the “graces” of femininity. “Although many plants and flowers were dedicated to Venus in Roman antiquity, the myrtle was the most sacred,” according to Deirdre Larkin, author of The Art of Illumination blog for The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed, myrtle was the epithet of Venus, who, with all heralchemical powers, was known as the “Heart-Turner.”
The Three Graces, Unknown Roman artist, Fresco at Pompeii 79 AD.
Wearing myrtle wreaths and carrying sprigs of myrtle.
Ms. Larkin continues: “A plant of immortality, myrtle was an emblem of love and desire; poets, especially love poets, were crowned with it, and doorposts were wreathed with myrtle in nuptial celebrations.” Myrtle has been greatly valued for centuries for the fragrant oils released from its leaves and is still used in precious perfumes and unguents. Women of both ancient Roman and Greek cultures bathed in healing and soothing myrtle-scented water; these baths became sacred rituals for brides in preparing for their wedding.
Prized by the Hebrews, myrtle was their symbol for marriage. The online resource, Alchemy Works, explains that the association with marriage in many ancient cultures is probably because myrtle “was originally connected with sex.” An ingredient in magic love potions, it was thought to be “helpful in creating and preserving love.”
With such a legendary heritage dedicated to love, it’s no surprise that myrtle has been irresistible to brides through the ages and used in many wedding bouquets. “In English folklore,” Alchemy Works shares, “a marriage will follow shortly after the myrtle blooms. It was [also] a Victorian symbol of fidelity in marriage and is still thought to bring good luck at weddings. And in Wales, brides once gave a sprig of myrtle to each bridesmaid.” In addition, there is a royal myrtle story at Fulham Palace in London that goes back to Queen Victoria’s nineteenth century wedding.
Since the eleventh century, Fulham Palace on the Thames was the home to the Bishops of London and was surrounded by rather legendary gardens (and, until the 1920s, the longest moat in England.) “According to popular legend,” states an article in Country Life magazine, “the four myrtle bushes on the east facade of Fulham Palace, facing the gardens, were grown from cuttings taken from Queen Victoria's wedding bouquet in 1840.” The magazine article declares that “the circumstantial evidence is certainly pleasing.”
London's Fulham Palace was an estate owned by the Bishops of London for over 1300 years.
In the early nineteenth century, the palace was the official residence of Bishop Charles James Blomfeld “who officiated, together with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, at the Queen’s wedding. And the bishop was a keen gardener. Standing only inches away from the fragrant royal bouquet, did Bishop Blomfield find himself, as keen gardeners are so prone to do, dropping a hint?”
Part of the restored and refurbished Fulham Palace, which is no longer a residence, is now a museum and several elegant rooms and areas are available for weddings and parties. The palace’s gardens, called amongst the most important in England, are a combination of woodlands, meadows, lawns, and an enchanted eighteenth century walled garden with a wisteria pergola. Watching over this lush garden setting like regal goddesses, those royal myrtle bushes are reminders of Queen Victoria’s wedding legacy of devoted love. Their sweet-scented flowers, with long eyelash-like stamens, cover the scrub in early summer and become an added pleasure to the brides who have their weddings at Fulham Palace during the season.
But for brides (or indeed for any of us) who don’t have the benefit of experiencing this fragrant delight in person, the folklore of myrtle and its blessings can continue into our dreams. The “dream interpreter” of SpiritCommunity.com reveals: “To see myrtle in foliage and bloom in your dream, denotes that your desires will be gratified, and pleasures will possess you.” (No wonder myrtle was sacred to the goddesses of joy, love and laughter!)
The young Princess, then, Queen Victoria was sensitive to the language of flowers and plants as well as to the magic and power of their fragrances. Her attention to detail when planning her wedding set many bridal customs in place that remain dear to us today, but did the twenty year-old bride know that the myrtle in her bouquet would help continue such a botanical legend?
Ahhh. Here’s to the mysteries of the beloved fragrant myrtle and to the Goddesses of Love; to the romance that fills our dreams and to the wise yet playful devas in our gardens; to the desires of the heart that are fueled by the fragrance of flowers and to the passions of a young Queen. The next time you are in your garden or yard or on your patio, plant something aromatic — whether from a wedding bouquet or a favorite neighborhood nursery — and launch your own legend!
Wedding folklorist Cornelia Powell grew up with a paternal grandmother, a child of the late Victorian era, who talked to flowers — and they responded with abundant beauty that she generously shared with others with pleasure! Read more of Cornelia’s stories that deepen a bride’s rite-of-passage as well as a woman’s journey of self-discovery in her online magazine, Weddings of Grace (www.WeddingsOfGrace.com) and in her blogs, “Letters to a Bride” (www.CorneliaPowellWeddings.blogspot.com) and “The Woman You Become” (www.WomanYouBecome.com).