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Sunday, May 24, 2009

the bridal wreath

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Our "bridal wreath" spirea bush explodes in front of the house like fireworks. Here - I darkened this photo so you could see what I mean. I think it doubled in size from last year.





I made a pretty wreath and Don took this nice photo of me wearing it that I blurred up to make me look more romantic. Maybe many brides have worn a spirea bridal wreath, which might be why it was named that, or else the bush itself just looks like a bridal wreath. Our daughter will be married here on the farm in August - too bad there won't be any spirea in bloom for a wreath for her hair. But all bridal veils "grew" from this tradition.

Down through the centuries a white floral wreath worn on a bride's head was an indication of her maidenhood - virginity. In The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg, a book that Lyndal Roper wrote to counter the belief that the Reformation was only good for women's progress in society (in fact, he argues that women’s status was actually worsened by it), is this paragraph about the bridal wreath:

The symbolic object most associated with the bride was the wreath. Denoting triumph and festivity, it was also linked with her virginity. In Augsburg, at the engagement and again at the wedding, the bride presented the groom with a wreath. During the procession to the church she wore her hair loose or uncovered save for the bridal wreath or crown. Her peer group of unmarried women distributed wreaths to all the guests. It is hard to determine whether the wreath had always symbolized the offering of the bride’s virginity to the groom, or whether this was a later development as the Church, continuing its pre-Reformation campaigns, tried to prevent the couple celebrating their sexual union until after the wedding. Certainly by the late sixteenth century, in both Protestant and Catholic regions, women who had slept with their men before the wedding were being compelled to wear a mock wreath of straw through the streets, or a wreath open at the back, in a public exhibition of their “shame.”

Yippee for Google! - as I was searching info about the bridal wreath spirea, not only did I find Roper's interesting book, I also found this treasure: a novel titled The Bridal Wreath, written in 1920 - first in a trilogy by Norwegian Sigrid Undset (born in Denmark but raised in Norway). The book's title, of course, has great importance for the story, especially in light of what the bridal wreath signified in the 14th century when the story was set a la Roper's words, above.





As an English major-come-university-English-department-adviser how did I not ever hear of 14th century Norwegian Kristin Lavransdatter, one of the great heroines of literature apparently (and title and subject of a film directed by Liv Ullman), and the book about her that has never been out of print since its first publication in 1920? (Granted, most of what we read in class was written in English, not translated into English.) How did I not hear of its author, Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1928 - "principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages"?

Sigrid Undset (b. May 20, 1882 - the same year Virginia Woolfe was born; she died in 1949 ), was a pioneer exploring aspects of life in the Middle Ages that hadn't been documented. Having grown up listening to her historian/archeologist father tell of Medieval times in Scandinavia, she developed gripping psychological studies that were erotic, and yes imaginary - but based in the historic tensions of the times. How did her own conversion to Catholicism a few years before writing the book contribute to its exploration of sexuality? What was life really like for women then? There is little evidence. But Undset apparently presents fascinating possibilities.

THE PLOT: The father of The Bridal Wreath's heroine - Kristin Lavransdatter - is a wealthy landowner (yes his name was Lavran - so "Lavran's daughter" = Lavransdatter) who has betrothed her to another respectable landowner's son. But one night at a festival Kristin meets a dark knight, they dance all night - and fall in love. Will she follow her father's wishes to marry the landowner's son? Or will she follow her passionate longing to be with the knight of ill repute? I'll found out sometime, as I've added the book to my pile of unfinished reading.

The individual novels of the trilogy Undset wrote are Kransen (The Bridal Wreath - or sometimes just called The Wreath), first published in 1920, Husfrue (Wife), published in 1921, and Korset (The Cross), published in 1922. Kransen and Husfrue have also been published in English translation under the titles The Bridal Wreath and The Mistress of Husa.


While cruising for The Bridal Wreath in the university library stacks, I couldn't resist also fingering another of Undset's novels, Våren, translated into German Fruhling - just to soak in the beauty of the old German font and the book cover with birch leaves, below.


Undset's novel Fruhling translated from Norwegian (Våren) into German
- and its cover below






young Sigrid Undset


61 comments:

Patricia said...

Your interesting research on this common flowering shrub deserves an A+! Although ours has just finished its bloom phase I will never again look at it the same way.

Thanks for digging deep to reveal this incredible cultural history.

dutchbaby said...

Your spirea is beautiful! I love how you took us along as you pulled the thread of knowledge, starting with a simple wreath, opening into a whole new world of Scandinavian literature. I wish I could hold the German book with the blackletter font and leaf cover.

Oliag said...

I love how your posts are always so chock-full of wonderful interrelated information!...always illustrated with beautiful photos:)

Years ago I fell in love with the Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy that my librarian recommended and I read through them obsessively and quickly...I no longer recall a lot of the details of the books but have a lasting memory of delving into medieval history along with romance and tragedy and loving every minute of it...unfortunately I don't own the books or I would be taking them off the shelf right now to refresh my memory...

The photo of the young Sigrid Undset is the picture of what I would imagine Kristen herself to look like...

Moannie said...

Beautifully told. I have just finished reading Jean de Floret and Manon des Sources and that final picture of the young Sigrid is exactly how I imagined the young Manon as I was reading-despite the vivid portrayal by Emmanuelle B....[cant remember the surname] I was so happy to discover that the wonderful films follow almost completly the fine story telling of Pagnol.

luksky said...

I love Bridal Wreath! When I was young my mother would take clippings of them and put them in different vases of colored water where the flower would turn different colors. We always had plenty of Bridal Wreath in Alabama, since moving to Central Texas I have not seen any here.....

alice said...

So, you've cut your hair ;-))
Your post makes me think of my Exochorda the Bride. I love white flowers and white shrubs. And I've read somewhere that the color our eye first sees in a garden is the white, I didn't know that, I'd have said red...
I wish you a lovely Sunday, Ruth.

Loring Wirbel said...

Astonishing story of Sigrid Undset too.

Lover of Life said...

Thank you for sharing this interesting information. The flowers are beautiful, as is the picture you took with the wreath. Very interesting post. Thank you.

ds said...

A quick trip out front confirmed that, yes, there is a spirea in front of the house, and thanks to you, I know what it is. Yippee! Yours is beautiful; I love it when plants are allowed to cascade in their natural form (love forsythia that way, too) and are not confined as hedges...fascinating background you provided as well. And I've long wanted to read Kristin Lavransdattir, but as with so much else, it kept getting pushed further back on the list. It is so nice to visit here and learn so many new things. Thank you.

Wrensong Farm said...

What a gorgeous spirea! Loved your first pic, the wreath hanging and the one of you "being the bride"! And if that wasn't enough some facinating history to go along with it! Truly enjoyed this post!

shicat said...

Very interesting post. The trilogy sounds interesting,a combo of history and romance. All this from your beautiful Bridal Wreath bush. Interesting about the wreath's symbolism tied to a womans virginity. I wonder what the men had to wear if they were not virgins when they married? hmmm.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Patricia the art teacher!

You're welcome, but it was rewarding for me too - the stuff I found out along the way.

Ruth said...

Yes, Dutchbaby, calligrapher that you are, I imagine you would enjoy that book. I would like to find it online so I can own it. Maybe e-Bay.

Ruth said...

Cool, Oliag - you've read them! I could have picked up the trilogy in one volume - over 1,000 pages. But I thought I'd start with the first and see how it goes. With your rec, I think I'll be getting the other two as well.

Ruth said...

Oh thank you, Moanie for telling me about Jean de Floret and Manon des Sources - now I can find those too! Is there no end to what I don't know?

(Yes, of course.)

Ruth said...

Oh, luksky, I haven't tried that - I've seen it done with baby's breath.

Yes, maybe spirea needs northern climates - such a delicate flower.

Ruth said...

Yep, Alice, I think I'll leave my hair in a pageboy now for a while.

I hadn't seen Exochorda, so I looked it up. I love white flowers too - so delicate with the green. I think I have heard that too about white standing out - from my garden books.

Ruth said...

Loring, there is much more information I could have posted about Undset, she sounds like an extraordinary person. The 1920s produced some amazing creativity, and I just keep finding out more about it.

Ruth said...

You're welcome, L o L, and thank you too.

Ruth said...

Oh cool, DS! about the spirea you now know.

Why do people trim forsythia, spirea, quince, etc.?? Ridiculous! When they are so amazing in their "wild" state.

Well now I can look forward - maybe - to seeing a review of Kristin on your blog. But maybe I'll get it/them read first!

Nah.

Ruth said...

Good, Tammy - I'm so glad. I loved reading about these things and writing them up. This has been one of my favorites, I have to say. So much I didn't know about, and now when I look at the spirea, there is deeper meaning.

Ruth said...

Oh dear, don't get me started, Cathy. But yes, the imbalance of things. Awful that women were like prize cows auctioned off - but not a prize if not virgins. But of course the men could fool around, no worries.

VaNeSsA said...

Ruth, could a wreath be made of the spirea and dried for the wedding? Just a thought, it might not even be possible.
Now you've got me intrigued by this Ms. Unset. I will have to see if I can get a copy of this book for my own stack of ready-to-read books. (There are only about 2o there - there isn't much time for reading during the first year or two of motherhood - I know you understand!)I will mention her to my Aunt Susan as well, as she loves Aurthurian (sp?) legends, and may find this author interesting too!

Barry said...

Fascinating Ruth.

The story of the straw bridal wreath was interesting as an example of another of the numerous little cruelties inflected as a means of social control.

And speaking of little cruelties, I will be receiving four weeks of chemo, followed by a five week mix of radiation and chemo followed by a final week of chemo.

Then I get a month off to recover before surgery.

YIPES!

renaye said...

pretty!! i have never worn a wreath before!! and hopefully i will be able to wear them once before i die!

jaykbee said...

I give you an A + too. Great post and beautiful pictures!

Annie said...

I should find that book as I'm interested in medieval times myself. Wrote a medieval novel some time ago but haven't managed to publish it yet and it's just lying in the desk drawer. Lazy me.

laura said...

I have a "bridal wreath" spirea too, and mine has about double in size this spring too, after years of sluggish growth. I had no idea hat it was called, or used for, though, seeing yours, I think it's a spectacular choice for a wreath!!

Sandy said...

Great informative post and loved the photos of the bush, just beautiful as is your "wreath"..

Susan said...

I have always admired bridal wreath whenever I see it in someone's garden! I don't know why I've never had any myself. It really would look lovely along the edge of our woods.

You make a lovely bride, Ruthie! I bet Don thought so as well. I was thinking the same thing as Vanessa, could you make a dried wreath for Lesley? I'm sure she wants fresh flowers for her hair though.

I'll have to see if our library has the Undset novels. If they don't, I can probably get them from Columbus Metropolitan.

Deslilas said...

That's a discover, Sigrid IUnset, she was a vey pretty woman.
Flower crowns are very popular in Scandinavia. I got one for my 60's birthday made by Finnish relatives in France.

Ruth said...

VaNeSsA, please do ask your Aunt Susan when you're in Seattle.

To answer your question about the wreath, it had wilted completely within 24 hours - it's not the type of flower that dries well - at least I haven't figured it out. It's not like Queen Anne's Lace that way.

Oh well - good thought.

Ruth said...

Barry, history is too terrible.

And yours will get worse before it gets better, I'm so sorry. But better is worth waiting for. You have my thoughts and prayers.

Ruth said...

I'm sure you would be very sweet in a hair wreath, Renaye - you're so cute.

Ruth said...

Well thank you, Jaykbee!

Christina said...

Ruth, this is such a beautiful lesson you have shared today. I didn't know any of this. And such beautiful flowers. ; )

Ruth said...

Annie, it's hard to push past the hurdles to get published. I hope you will. When you're ready.

I think this book/trilogy is right up your alley!

Ruth said...

Laura, it made a beautiful wreath - but very short lived. It would have to be made just before the bride walks down the aisle!

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Sandy.

Ruth said...

Ah, thank you, Susie.

As I told Vanessa, the wreath wilted by the next day, so I don't think it could be preserved, even with silica sand.

I hope you can find the trilogy. I'll start reading soon (after Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault), and I'll let you know what I think.

Ruth said...

Oh! Daniel, I didn't know they had flower crowns for men too.

I had of course heard of the Santa Lucia crowns with candles at Christmas time. I went to a college with mostly Swedes.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Christina.

E Mama said...

My grandmother grew this and always called it a "Snowball bush" I never knew its proper name. Thanks! No I can ask for it and get the right plant!
Beautiful Photos!!

*jean* said...

how cool! thanks for sharing! my parents had a huge bridal wreath and now i have one in my front yard!! mine is blooming right now and i have a bunch of little bottles and vases filled with the sprigs....

jean

david mcmahon said...

Beautiful work, Ruth.

photowannabe said...

Fascinating information and wonderful pictures. I love learning the whys and where fors of traditions. Thanks Ruth. Its always a pleasure coming here.

Daryl said...

What a wonderful, informative post ... and I wonder if the shrub was dubbed bridal wreath because of the way it grows.. like a train on a gown or the way a bridal bouquet often 'drapes' down the way those branches do .. can you tell I am one of those annoying people who continually guesses long after the real answers are known? LOL. I am.

I came by to say congrats on the POTD mention at David's!

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wonderful post and photos! I came over from David's authorblog. Congrats on the Post of the Day Award!

Bob Johnson said...

Very, very cool books Ruth and great wreath!! We are almost ready for our daughter's wedding June 20, just bought my suit, wife of course helped out to tell me what I liked,lol.

Ruth said...

E Mama, be careful though, there are many different white flowering bushes!

Ruth said...

Jean, how pretty that must be. I think little flowers in small containers are my favorite.

Ruth said...

Thank you, David - and thanks for the post of the day nod!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Sue, very much.

Ruth said...

Hi and welcome, Daryl. I would rather be like you and keep guessing and being curious than what I have been most of my life - unconscious! Thank you for your visit.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Debbie-Cheffie-Mom! How nice.

Ruth said...

Bob - haha! You and your wife sound like Don and me. At the store, Don holds up a garment and says, "do I like this?"

shoreacres said...

I grew up in Iowa with huge bridal wreath bushes around our house, and just loved them. I hadn't seen one in years until my Mississippi trip, and they were in full bloom there.

When I came back and talked about them, someone said, "No, that's spirea". I'd never heard that name used. And now, I know a good bit more about a plant I truly loved.

Not only that, with my olefactory memory refreshed, I can smell your bushes from here!

Ruth said...

Linda, the scent is very subtle.

I think it's so interesting how we have differing vocab around the country and the world - in English - for plants, trees, and lots of other things.

Anna said...

Ruth and again, I just took photo of them on Saturday, lol, what a nice flower, and thanks for the story behind it, it is always nice to learn something new. Anna :)

Auntie Margaux said...

Hello there! I found your blog while searching for a picture of a traditional mideival bridal wreath.
I wanted to offer to send you a few pictures that I took of an actual straw bridal wreath while visiting a mideival torture museum in Rothenburg, Germany. I have a picture of a straw wreath, along with several pics of the description/story of the bridal wreath, and variations thereof. It was pretty interesting, and I'd love for you to be able to post the pics on your blog. Let me know if you'd like me to email the pics to you, and you can decide if you'd like to use them or not. Either way, thought you might find it interesting. Kindest Regards!

Ruth said...

Auntie Margaux, yes! Please email your pics to me at ruth.mowry@gmail.com.

Thanks!