Heritage Website – Medieval Gardens
The medieval gardens were originally planted for the St Mary de Haura 900th Anniversary Celebrations in May 2003. To mark the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, the 'Flowery Mead' (a long grass conservation area) was allowed to grow throughout the summer at the east end of the churchyard.
The Mary Garden
In medieval times, a garden could have a symbolic and spiritual dimension. The hortus conclusus or 'enclosed garden' was a sacred area which might represent the Christian soul, enclosed in the body, or the Church, formed of the body of the faithful. It was also, in the late Middle Ages, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, identified with the bride in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. In the 15th century, depictions of the Virgin in a Paradise Garden were frequent, in particular in Flemish and German painting. In these images, the flowers all have a symbolic meaning, representing Mary's virtues.
By growing these flowers in a bed outside our own church dedicated to St Mary, we have created an area of colour and interest, and also linked ourselves with the medieval inhabitants of Shoreham, who would have understood very well the spiritual significance of these lovely plants.
The following flowers may be found in the Mary Garden:
- Christmas Rose – said to have flowered on Christmas Day to honour the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, son of Mary
- Cowslip – 'Our Lady's Keys'. In medieval times, St Mary was often referred to as 'Our Lady'
- Daisy – symbolic of purity and simplicity, it is widely portrayed in the 'flowery mead' or meadow in medieval paintings
- Forget-Me-Not – 'Our Lady's Eyes'
- Foxglove – 'Our Lady's Gloves'
- Heartsease – known as 'Herb Trinity' because of its white, yellow and purple colouring. Common in medieval paintings of Mary
- Iris – compared to the Virgin in mystic devotion. The blade-shaped foliage denotes the sorrows which 'pierced her heart' in accordance with Simeon's prophecy at the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
- Lady's Mantle – 'Our Lady's Mantle'. The leaves are covered with fine silky hairs on which raindrops can settle without wetting the leaf. Possibly because of this it was likened to a cloak for the Blessed Virgin
- Lily – regularly appeared in paintings of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary with the joyful news that she was to be the mother of Jesus, the Saviour of the World. The Venerable Bede, the great 8th-century chronicler of the English Church and people, claimed that the whiteness of the petals represented her physical purity, and the golden anthers the radiant light of her soul
- Lily of the Valley – 'Our Lady's Tears'. It was said to have grown where she wept, and was one of the flowers used to decorate the Lady Chapels of churches. It is shown growing in the grass beneath Mary's feet in paintings by Jan Van Eyck
- Lungwort – 'Mary's Tears'. The white spots on the leaves are her tear stains, and the changing colour of the flowers from pink to blue represent her blue eyes reddened with weeping. Lungwort is also known as 'Mary and Joseph'
- Marigold – 'Mary's Gold'. The flowers were used as a gold-coloured die for wool, and may have been thought to symbolise Our Lady's simplicity and domesticity
- Peony – gloriously rich medieval flower which featured in many paintings and tapestries
- Periwinkle – 'The Virgin's Flower', probably because of its blue, star-like flowers. Mary was often referred to as Stella Maris, 'Star of the Sea'
- Pinks – also known as the 'Gilly Flower', they are considered a symbol of the Virgin Mary
- Primrose – was used to decorate church altars in May, 'the month of Mary'
- Rose – symbolises the Virgin herself, who was sometimes known as the 'Mystic Rose'. Here we are growing two antique roses: Rosa Gallica (the 'apothecary's rose') and Rosa Alba, both supplied by Peter Beales Roses of Norfolk, a Gold Medal winner at the 2003 Chelsea Flower Show. The Gallica is thought to be the oldest cultivated rose, the ancestor of all European medieval roses
- Rosemary – the pale blue flowers are said to have taken their colour from Mary's veil when she spread it over a rosemary bush
- Snowdrop – 'Our Lady's Bells'. Snowdrops flower at Candlemas (The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin), which falls on February 2nd
- Star of Bethlehem – a reminder of Jesus' birth at Christmas
- Violet – 'Our Lady's Modesty'. The violet's delicacy, colour, sweet scent and heart-shaped leaves refer to Mary's constancy, modesty and innocence
- Wild Strawberry – designated as the fruit of the Virgin Mary and of blessed souls in heaven. They are depicted growing in the grass beneath Mary's feet in paintings by Jan Van Eyck
The Hospitallers' Garden
The Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, more commonly known as the Knights Hospitallers, were a religious order whose origin may be traced back to a hospital for pilgrims in Jerusalem established in c.1080, shortly before the founding of St Mary's Church.
The Order greatly developed after the successes of the Crusaders in 1099. Its original concern was the care of the sick poor, and its ideas of treating the poor as 'lords' and the medical practices in its hospitals were to have a significant influence in medieval Europe. From the early 12th century onwards, the Order was being granted properties in Western Europe and one such was established here in Shoreham, although the exact date of its foundation cannot be ascertained.
Henry Cheal, in The Story of Shoreham (1921) tells us:
"The Knights Hospitallers and Knights Templars had a contemporary existence in the town. There is ample proof that the establishments of both these Orders were situated on land south of the present High Street, but long since swallowed up by the sea, before the shingle beach was formed and the river forced to take its present eastward course. The Adur, therefore, runs over the site of the Conventual buildings and the shingle bank covers up much of the land with which both Hospitallers and Templars were endowed." He continues:
"You will find in the street nomenclature of the town, John Street – probably a faint echo of those far-off days when the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem flourished in the town."
A further connection between St Mary's Church and the Knights Hospitallers has been suggested by E.F. Salmon in an article 'Masons' and Other Incised Marks in New Shoreham Church' in Sussex Archaeological Collections vol. 48 (1905), who writes as follows:
"On the south face of a pillar on the north side of the church is a well-drawn and deeply-cut cross of a type sometimes called a Grand Master's Cross; it has been described as a Consecration Cross. This, however, it can hardly be, as it is not of sufficient height from the floor-level. It was, one may well assume, sculptured to mark an important event in the history of the church, viz., the presence at the consecration of the newly-built choir, on or about the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin in the year AD 1185 of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius, together with Roger, the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers. As is well known, His Holiness came to England at this time to solicit the King, Henry II, concerning another crusade, and in the absence of other evidence, Shoreham being the chief port for the continental route, the inference that Heraclius came by any other is extremely improbable."
From the earliest records, gardens have been associated with religious houses. The Hospitallers in Shoreham would have needed a constant supply of healing herbs to treat the sick, and we know from illustrated manuscripts of the time that herb gardens were small, neatly-ordered areas of narrow fenced beds, separated by paths. Many plants were described as 'medicinal', and they were relied upon for hundreds of years to provide cures or alleviations for even the most serious illnesses and wounds; their special properties were singled out by observation and experiment.
We hope that you will enjoy the fragrances of the plants, and through them feel a sense of continuity with the history of this ancient town.
The following herbs may be found in the Hospitallers' Garden:
- Alecost (Costmary)
- Clary Sage
- Lemon Balm
- St John's Wort
- Salad Burnett
- Sweet Cecily
- White Horehound
Text and Photos: Marion Standing