Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Thistle Symbol

       The Thistle is symbolic for chivalry and long suffering endurance. Over time, the meaning of chivalry has been refined to emphasize social and moral virtues more generally. However, the code of chivalry, as it stood by the Late Middle Ages, was a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners, all conspiring to establish a notion of honor and nobility.
       Understanding this medieval definition of chivalry is very important when interpreting the symbolism behind the thistle. Royal families in both Scotland and France have long associated the symbol with their own heraldry because of it's links to chivalry.
       In origin, the term chivalry means "horsemanship", formed in Old French, in the 11th century, from chevalier (horseman, knight), from Medieval Latin caballārius. The French word chevalier originally means "a man of aristocratic standing, and probably of noble ancestry, who is capable, if called upon, of equipping himself with a war horse and the arms of heavy cavalryman and who has been through certain rituals that make him what he is". In English, the term appears from 1292 (note that cavalry is from the Italian form of the same word).
       The meaning of the term evolved over time because the word chevalier was used differently in the Middle Ages, from the original concrete military meaning "status or fee associated with military follower owning a war horse" or "a group of mounted knights" to the ideal of the Christian warrior ethos propagated in the Romance genre, which was becoming popular during the 12th century, and the ideal of courtly love propagated in the contemporary Minnesang and related genres. Thus, chivalry has hierarchical meanings from simply a heavily armed horseman to a code of conduct.
       The ideas of chivalry originated in three medieval works: the anonymous poem Ordene de Chevalerie, that tells the story of how Hugh II of Tiberias was captured and released upon his agreement to show Saladin (1138-1193) the ritual of Christian knighthood, the Libre del ordre de cavayleria, written by Ramon Lull (1232-1315), whose subject is knighthood, and the Livre de Chevalerie of Geoffroi de Charny (1300-1356), which examines the qualities of knighthood, emphasizing prowess. Based on the three treatises, initially chivalry was defined as a way of life in which three essential aspects fused together: the military, the nobility, the religion.
       The "code of chivalry" is thus a product of the Late Middle Ages, evolving after the end of the crusades partly from an idealization of the historical knights fighting in the Holy Land, partly from ideals of courtly love.

Gautier's Ten Commandments of chivalry are:
  1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions.
  2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
  3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
  4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
  5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
  6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
  7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
  8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
  9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse (to pay/make tithes, taxes and charitable contributions) to everyone.
  10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
      Though these ten commandments are often accepted to be what knights would use, they would not necessarily be what a knight actually followed in the medieval era. This code was created by Leon Gautier in 1883, long after the knight had ceased to exist in its traditional form. Chivalry in a historical sense was more of a subjective term, these laws would likely be seen as good code for a clergyman, however others would hold different ideas on what chivalry truly was.
       All of these ideas about codes of conduct and chivalry where directly linked to the persona of Christ by medieval Christendom. Both the thorns of the thistle and the lavender colored crowning top of petals as seen on the flower's bud (head) served as reminders of Jesus' authority in Heaven and on Earth. In fact, Jesus wears both a crown of thorns and a royal purple robe in many of the carvings, stained glass windows, paintings, engravings, etc... depicted in his churches across the Western world.

Scriptural References for the Thistle Chrismon:
  1. He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27 (NIV)
  2. "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
  3. "Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
    Psalm 41:1 and "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5 (NIV)
  4. "Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;" Proverbs 3:9 (NIV)
  5. "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Matthew 5:44 (NIV)
  6. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
  7. "Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him." Mark 12:17 (NIV)
  8. "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." Exodus 20:16 and "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32 (NIV)
  9. "'If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you." Leviticus 25:35 and ""Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
  10. "Declare what is to be, present it-- let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me." Isaiah 45:21 (NIV)

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