The Easter Lily will shortly grace Catholic and Christian churches throughout the world as a sign of the Resurrection of Christ after his passion on Good Friday.
The United States began the tradition of using lillies on Easter Sunday after a returning tourist from Philadelphia smuggled some bulbs into her luggage in the 1880's after a visit to Bermuda. After that, the plant was commmercially grown and firmly established itslelf as the flower of choice for an Easter display in both homes and churches alike.
Traditionally, we are told legends of the lily. Reportedly, the lily sprung up in the Garden of Gethsemane whereever the beads of perspiration fell from the face of Christ during his agony in the same garden. They are considered flowers of hope and are commonly used in Christian Churches to celebrate the hope of the resurrection experienced by Christ and the hope all Christians maintain for the final resurrection at the end of time.
The ancient Romans believed that lillies were the result of spills from the lactating Juno, while feeding Hercules. Whereever the drops of Juno's breastmilk fell onto the earth, lillies were thought to have emerged. There is also speculation that the Milky Way was formed from the residual drops of Juno's breastmilk was spread throughout the stars, causing the cloudy manner in which the Milky Way is viewed from Earth. Finally, other legends associate lillies with the tears of Eve after their transgression in the Garden of Eden that resulted in Adam and Eve's expulsion from God's paradise.
Regardless of the legends and the manner through which the Easter Lily has come into our celebration of Spring, it is a welcome sign of new life, hope and of course purity. Often in Christian symbolism, the lily is associated with the Virgin Mary, and her perpetual virginity. The lily is often seen as a sign and symbol of Mary's purity of life and her consistent commitment to purity.
The Archangel Gabriel is often seen in Catholic depictions of the Annunciation extending a lily to the Blessed Mother as a sign of her vocational call towards a life of virginity and purity. Whenever the Holy Family is portrayed, a lily is present to indicate Mary's virginity even after the birth of Christ.
The Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Church often tells a legend that after Mary's death, her tomb was found empty and in her place bouquets of lillies were present throughout the tomb. The antlers of the plant are symbolic of the radiance of her eternal life after death and the white flowers are representative of her spotless body and soul. So in Christian iconography, the Easter Lily is present at the Annunciation, and the Assumption as an ever pervasive symbol of Mary's perpetual purity of both body and soul.
The stamens and pistils of the Easter Lily while reprsenting the glow of eternal life for iconographers are a different thing for the often prudish Victorians. They considered those parts of the Easter Lily as too representational of the sex act and were commonly removed so as not to present temptations to anyone that viewed them. More than likely, they actually realized that those parts of the Easter Lily presented a satorial concern. The stamens and the pistils of the Easter Lily stain clothing in a permanent manner, So in deference to providing a tale of sexual desires, the pragmatic reason the Victorians removed the stamens and the pistils was to avoid staining clothing.
In most cases, the Easter Lily reminds Christians of their spiritual aspirations through prayer. To the present day, lillies are viewed as intermediaries of prayer between the people of Earth to a transcendent God who receives human supplications through the beauty of the ever humble Easter Lily.