Still going! And still not stitching fast enough – though I now have many ideas. Oh well. We’ll see what August brings.
Two marigolds completed and a third underway. It’s another plant with many local names reflecting its widespread cultivation from medieval times onwards. Calendula comes from the Latin for calendar named because the plant can be in flower from spring to autumn. The Lyle Herbal compiled by Anthony Askham in 1550 called them ‘the flower of all months’. It also had associations with the sun – because the flower turns towards it and because of its appearance. One of its common names is ‘bride of the sun’.
I do grow marigolds – the petals are a substitute for saffron so can be used as a dye as well as being edible. In medieval times they were used to treat wounds and as a treatment for sore teeth (optimistic I know). Modern herbalism recognises that they have anti-inflammatory properties. And yes I do partake of a pot of marigold tea on occasion – not sure whether it helps the rheumatism or not but there’s a sense of achievement in using something you’ve grown yourself at any rate. Medieval, Tudor and Stuart herbalists thought that it might protect you from a fever and even from the plague…I’m not prepared to guarantee that though!
Inevitably there is rather a lot of folklore associated with the bloom. Picked at noon it strengthens the heart and drives away melancholy. And if you want to discover the love of your life, stick it under your pillow at Halloween so that you will dream of them…I always thought that was apple peels thrown over your shoulder but it’s always good to have a variety of pre-internet dating methodologies available! To avoid being accused of witchcraft when gathering the flower, advice was also often provided as to what prayers to use. And nothing is not going to scream witch like someone mumbling to themselves while they pick flowers from the herb garden. I’m not sure that sentence works but you get the drift.
And talking of religious respectability, in Christian legend one of the names for the flower is ‘Mary’s gold’ because while the Holy Family were fleeing to Egypt, Mary’s purse was stolen. When the thieves opened it all they found were petals. Early Christians placed the flowers around statues of Mary as offerings in place of coins. By medieval times it became popular to plant Mary gardens with plants associated with the Virgin Mary, of which marigold was one. By the seventeenth century a similar collection of flowers had more subversive undertones so far as the State was concerned. Catholics planted so-called Mary gardens as a means of connecting to their beliefs. An alternative name to Mary’s gold, if you need another, was holy gold.
Mary’s gold became something of a pun for Mary Queen of Scots who used the image as a personal device on occasion. Marigolds can be found in the Oxburgh hangings at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk (check whether they’re back in situ from their restoration at the V and A before going). Marigolds turning to the sun represented courage in adversity and the Scottish Queen certainly needed plenty of that. The flowers feature next to her monogram. The marigold was perhaps the least conspiratorial of the messages contained in the images on the Oxburgh hangings…no prizes for working out who the caterpillars might represent.