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Outdoors: 'Lo, how a rose e'er blooming'

Red rose covered in a winter frost

“There is no rose of such virtue.”

“Lo, how a rose e'er blooming.”

Rose symbolism in the early advent music goes back to at least to Medieval times, and some think long before.

Why roses? Perhaps their scent?

“O Flower, whose fragrance tender, With sweetness fills the air.”  

Actually, that seems to be the answer.

The Mother Mary was symbolized by a rose because it was considered the most beautiful flower.

And of all of the blossoms, roses were special because they were thought to have the sweetest perfume. Even by any other name, a rose would smell as sweet.

From my reading, I’ve learned that in Medieval and Renaissance times, people, from royalty to common folk, were obsessed and repulsed by bad odors and indoor insects. And with good reason.

A damp, musty castle filled with unwashed people, rotting garbage and sewage must have been repulsive. Noblemen wore pomanders and women used perfume and carried nosegays to avoid smelling their surroundings.

Peasants who lived in hovels with ill-kept thatched roofs had precipitation and insects raining down on them day and night.

They too carried posies (bouquets of flowers and herbs) to mask odors.

But are we so different? With our scented candles, aerosol room fresheners and laundry additives?

When it comes to indoor insects, some folks become unglued when they find insects in their homes.

I have a friend whose house recently was invaded by boxelder bugs — harmless little insects that just want to be warm.

They don’t bite or give people rashes or eat the woodwork or harm the houseplants. They don’t even eat or drink in the winter.

They do, however, have funny little scent glands on both the upper and lower parts of their abdomens.

Give these red and black bugs the sniff test and you will be amazed.

They come off smelling like roses.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.