A Spiritual Garden on Your Living Room Wall
Inspired by floral theology, artwork from ‘Rose Harrington’ provides indoor opportunities to go to Jesus through Mary — and her namesake flowers.
The saying tells us to “stop and smell the roses.”
But Katrina Harrington hopes you’ll pray with them, too.
The Catholic artist, wife and mother of six is the owner of Rose Harrington, an online Catholic art shop specializing in botanical Rosary art. Inspired by medieval tradition, Harrington’s artwork portrays the mysteries of the Rosary and other events in the life of Christ and Mary as flowers.
Harrington hopes her colorful paintings — which she often creates with a baby in her lap — are a source of both beauty and spiritual refreshment in the homes where they’re hung.
“I want people to be able to look at their walls and see the Rosary in flowers,” Harrington told the Register.
A Call From God
Although Harrington loved painting growing up, it was never something she considered professionally. She studied economics at the University of Notre Dame, where she also met her husband, Chris. After graduating a semester early so the couple could get married, Harrington focused on her vocation as a wife and a mother.
But the need for a bit of extra income served as a providential opening.
“When my husband was in grad school and we needed to make ends meet, I really felt this call from God to start a Catholic art shop, and he provided so well,” said Harrington.
Thus, Harrington’s first art shop, Hatch Prints, was born. Through the shop, Harrington sold saint-quote pieces and ceramic mugs.
But in 2017, Hatch Prints became Rose Harrington Art, a change in name that reflected a deeper change in artistic focus.
“I started learning about Mary gardens and flower theology, and that’s when my art shifted to primarily pieces that focus on botanicals and their religious meanings,” Harrington said.
The Theology of Flowers
Perhaps ironically, Harrington’s botanical art project began to bloom in the cold of an Indiana winter. She was researching the symbolism of white roses for one of her saint-quote pieces when she found an online collection of the work of John Stokes, an engineer, who, after converting to Catholicism in 1946, dedicated his life’s work to the promotion and research of Mary gardens.
Harrington said she soon “went down a rabbit hole” of research into flower theology and the history of Mary gardens, which are planted with flowers associated with the Blessed Mother.
“My mind was just blown,” Harrington said. “I've always loved flowers, and my middle name is Rose. I always think it’s just so incredible how God is this stunning artist who creates such beauty and color in the world.”
Much of Stokes’ research was dedicated to the historical theology of flowers, which played a huge role in the life of the medieval Church.
“Flowers used to have religious names in medieval times,” Harrington explained, comparing the role they played to the stained-glass windows in churches of the time, which were an important aid in communicating the truths of the faith and helping people pray in a society in which literacy wasn’t widespread.
In fact, many common names for flowers today, such as the marigold and lady’s slipper, were originally named in connection with the Blessed Mother.
“It was just a reminder for the peasants or anyone who couldn’t read … who’s walking and sees a flower on the side of the road: They can be reminded of the presence of God,” Harrington said.
Some of the religious names or significances for flowers derive from Scripture; others come from legends passed down.
One example of the latter is the columbine flower. Harrington said the flower is used to represent the feast of the Visitation, for legend says that as Mary walked to visit her cousin Elizabeth, columbines appeared everywhere her feet touched.
Botanical Rosary Art
After researching their religious backgrounds, Stokes assigned each flower to a different mystery of the Rosary, offering his readers inspiration and tips for planting their own Mary gardens.
The yarrow flower, for example, which had long been known as Christ’s Bloody Back for its blood-red color, was used to represent the Second Sorrowful Mystery, the Scourging at the Pillar.
Drawing from Stokes’ extensive list of flowers and their religious significance, each of Harrington’s botanical Rosary pieces depicts the mysteries of the Rosary with its accompanying flower.
For the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Agony in the Garden is depicted by the Hypericum perforatum, the Crowning of Thorns by the Euphorbia splendens, and the Crucifixion by the Passiflora incarnata, or the passion flower.
In the Glorious Mysteries, the Resurrection is portrayed by a white resurrection lily, while the Descent of the Holy Spirit is symbolized in the form of blazing red columbines, drooping downward like descending tongues of Pentecostal flame.
Harrington sells prints of the individual mysteries, but also of complete sets of five, a kind of “spiritual bouquet” in artistic form. While most depictions typically imitate the real-life color of the flowers in question, Harrington also offers botanical Rosary paintings done in blue, “as an extra nod to Mary.”
A Beautiful Reminder
Harrington said her art has been described as subtle, but closer inspection reveals a much deeper significance.
“Someone who's visiting your house might think, ‘Oh, they're just flowers,’” Harrington said. “But upon getting closer, you see the name underneath the flower, ‘the annunciation lily,’ and you realize, ‘Oh, wow, whenever I see a lily, I can be reminded of the Annunciation and to ask for Our Lady’s help.’”
Historical flower theology isn’t Church dogma, but Harrington said it can still serve as a great reminder of prayer and faith.
“It's a great thing that can help you visualize. … You see columbines, and you can think of Our Lady and the Visitation,” Harrington said. By providing a visual depiction of floral theology in the form of paintings, Harrington’s artwork can provide this inspiration year-round — even if there’s a foot of snow on the ground outside.
Although creating art isn’t always a bed of roses for Harrington, she described the practice as “a beautiful prayer.”
“When I get to touch my paintbrush to paper, I feel peace,” Harrington said. “I mean, do I always feel that way? No, because sometimes my kids are literally climbing on my back as I’m painting.
“But I do feel a beautiful call to create with God. He’s the ultimate artist.”