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For most of his teen years, Rainel Lobo has been working with flowers in his church in India. As he learned how to create arrangements for the altar and church ceremonies, Rai learned more about flowers and the Bible. We’re so thankful that he took the time to share some of those lessons about flowers and the Bible as well as his culture in India.
Story & photos by Rainel E. Lobo
Mumbai Catholic correspondent
Since ancient times, people have feared their weakness and inability in the face of nature. Everywhere, they have felt unseen factors – for better or worse, good or evil –influencing the trajectory of planets and human life.
These spirits, acting positively or negatively, dwelled in the air or land, abided in flowers and creatures and even within objects.
In an attempt to find an answer to many unanswered questions, people have attributed a mystical-religious symbolic meaning to natural phenomena, flowers, animals, and objects. Magical meanings are assigned with each playing a specific role in a cosmic drama.
In religions, flowers are used for spiritual symbolism. Such applications include their use in the five major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the religions of China. Flowers can play an important role in some religions as offerings to their deity.
In this arrangement, we’ve incorporated lights and fabric with the flowers to add depth. The arrangement represents the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites.
In Christian church culture, the role of flowers is not as pronounced. For early Christians, flowers and the Bible were of no great concern. Compared to nowadays, Christians did not embrace the symbolism as we do now; they payed ever so little attention to the humble flowers.
Over the course of a few years many people have asked me about flowers and what they represent in Christianity. In Christian culture, flowers were once connected with decadence. But by the Middle Ages, Christians developed an appreciation of the beauty of nature and regarded this as proof that God created the world.
Like you see in the this floral arrangement, the story of Creation as painted in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is replicated using gold coloured palms. The flowers each have a distinct nature, all contributing to the arrangement of creation.
“Plants and trees symbolize a Christian symbol or an icon, but can also be figures, characters or colours used to represent abstract ideas, concepts or images depicting an idea,” according to the website All Saints & Martyrs.
“These religious icons as Christian symbols have a sacred significance. Flowers and plants perceive Christianity as God’s creation to express and share with the people divine goodness, truth and beauty- the aim of Creation.”
In the Christian culture, flowers were once linked with decadence and paganism. Since then, ideas about flowers have changed drastically.
Church altars are often decorated with bouquets or vases of flowers, especially on significant days such as Easter and Christmas. Flowers play a large role at Christian funerals, baptisms, and other special personal events.
Christian brides walk down the aisle with a bouquet of flowers as a token of fertility, while in earlier times it was common for them to wear a wreath or garland of flowers around their heads.
Tulips often represent attainment of spiritual awareness. Because they are from bulbs, and return every year, tulips are symbolic of resurrection and determination.
Passion Flowers – Originally called “Espina de Cristo” by the Jesuit missionaries who brought it to Spain from South America, this flower represents Christ’s suffering and sacrifice. Each part of the flower holds symbolism regarding the crucifixion of Christ.
White flowers such as white roses and lilies are used to stand for purity. They are also sometimes used in conjunction with references to the Virgin Mary for her own purity.
Red roses in Christianity stand for love or as a sign of Christ’s blood. The petals of the rose can symbolize the five wounds of Christ from the crucifixion.
This floral arrangement was made for a special occasion – the Feast of Christ the Universal King. The crown is the symbol of kingship and power. The floral crown that we’ve made shows the power of God over nature and all its beings.
‘In the garden of the Church, Mary gathers three flowers and places them into your hands: the white lily, the red rose, the pale violet.
The lily is the symbol of purity of conscience of life.
The rose represents that burning love which purifies, perfects and elevates the heart to God.
The violet is the emblem of the evangelical mortification which keeps us fresh, and ruddy according to the desire of the Beloved of our heart who pastures his flock among the lilies.
Coming back to St. Anthony’s Church, Malwani, India, where I do the floral decorations, no occasion is complete without some good flowers.
The Indian culture is an amalgamation of various subcultures. Indian culture resembles a bunch of gorgeous mixed flower bouquets that look stunning together while retaining their own uniqueness in the bunch.
This culture shows a close connection with flowers. From dawn to dusk, the flowers form a part of daily routine for the Indian individuals. People begin their days by offering flowers to the gods, watering the house plants, be it for a wedding, worship or any medicinal use.
Flowers form an integral part of living in the Indian culture and tradition.
In marriage ceremonies, garlands are worn by the bride and groom. We treat flowers as ornaments on a newly wedded wife. We decorate the church as though it’s her [the churches] wedding.
During parties and family gatherings, flowers often are used in creating an ambience. People offer flower bouquets and petals during a funeral believing that the fragrance from the flowers will add beauty and fragrance to the afterlife.
We can see how in India we bestow special importance to flowers. At St. Anthony’s church, we keep in mind all the significance and symbolism of flowers knowing of it as God’s handiwork as make arrangements to represent themes.
The entire floral arrangement tells a story – a story of creation, of the passion and suffering of Jesus, of mourning death of Jesus, and of the Resurrection.
I would love to end this article with a saying… “Happiness held is the seed; Happiness shared is the flower.”
Rainel Eric Lobo is head of the Décor & Maintenance committee at St. Anthony’s church in Malwani, Mumbia, India.
A self-taught floral designer, He’s been doing floral arrangements since 14 years of age with the nuns and other floral designers of the church. His floral decor has been featured in many of the church bulletins, and his arrangements are loved by all parishioners and priests.
He’s also involved in various other organisations and outreach programs. He’s the vice president of the junior Legion of Mary, the assistant coordinator of the Altar Servers committee and is now the head of the Décor and Maintenance committee. At the age of 18, he says that he has accomplished and succeeded in life with the grace of God alone.
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