Updated: Jul 14, 2022
The centrepiece of Fisher House's rooftop terrace is a Mary Garden, which collects various flowers and herbs with associations to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Started in 2014 by Mgr Mark Langham, our late chaplain, the Garden reached the height of its beauty from 2016 until his death in 2021.
In the Chaplaincy calendar, the Mary Garden has been the site of several traditional May devotions, which have included the crowning of its statue of Our Lady. In August 2019, the herbs on the Mary Garden were blessed in a ceremony with music from the vacation choir, the Turba Piscosa; the service was followed by a community barbeque.
What follows is Fr Mark's description of the Mary Garden from our old website, and a slideshow capturing the genesis and growth of the Mary Garden over the years (click to expand each photo). Many of the plants listed below have, very regrettably, passed away without Fr Mark's tender care.
Matteo Baccaglini, Pastoral Assistant,
republishing this blogpost in July 2022
The Mary Garden was a popular form of garden in the Middle Ages, particularly in monasteries. The healing and aromatic properties of many plants, particularly herbs, naturally suggested a connection with Our Lady, as in this 15th-century poem:
Heil be thou, Marie, that aff flour of all As roose in eerbir so reed.
The Venerable Bede wrote of the white lily as the emblem of the Blessed Virgin: the white petals symbolised the purity of her body, and the golden anthers the beauty of her soul. Later, St Bernard praised the Virgin Mary as ‘the violet of humility, the lily of chastity, the rose of charity, the Balm of Gilead, and the golden gillyflower of heaven.’
The first reference to a garden dedicated to Mary is from the life of St Fiacre, the Irish patron saint of gardening, who planted and tended a garden around the oratory to Our Lady he built in France in the 7th century. The first record of a flower actually named for Mary is that of ‘seint mary gouldes’ (St Mary’s Gold, or Marygold) for the Pot Marigold or Calendula, in a 1373 English recipe for a potion to ward off the plague. There was a Mary Garden at Norwich Priory, and Gloucester Cathedral has revived its Mary Garden.
The Mary Garden at Fisher House features the following flowers and herbs:
Our Lady’s Eardrop
Mary’s Drying Plant¹
Lily of the Valley
Our Lady’s Tears²
Our Lady’s Duster
Our Lady’s Bedstraw
Our Lady’s Belt
Our Lady’s Leaf
Our Lady’s Vine
Our Lady’s Modesty
¹ It is said that Mary dried our Lord’s swaddling clothes on lavender (Mary’s Drying Plant), from which it received its perfume.
² Lilies of the valley (Our Lady’s Tears) are said to have blossomed where Mary’s tears fell at the foot of the Cross.
³ On the flight into Egypt, robbers who stole our Lady’s purse found marigold Our Lady’s Gold) flowers instead of gold coins.
⁴ Pinks (Mary’s Blossom) are said to have grown where Mary’s tears fell on the flight into Egypt.
Fr Mark Langham was the much-loved Catholic Chaplain to the University of Cambridge from 2013 to 2021. He had formerly been Administrator at Westminster Cathedral and spent five years on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. Fr Mark passed away on 15 January 2021.