The Flower of Life, symbol of rebirth

The name “Flower of Life” [1] indicates the representation of a six-petaled flower belonging to different periods and archaeological contexts. Similar figures have been found in various parts of the world with partially overlapping symbolic meanings: in Europa, China, Egypt, and even at the remains of civilizations of pre-Columbian America.

Mosaic depiction of the symbol (4th century) at the Diocesan Museum “Benedetto Antelami” of Parma

This simple geometric form belongs to all mankind, and has had a parallel and independent development among cultures since the dawn of time. The main meanings of the Flower of Life in ancient Middle Eastern and European civilizations are analyzed below.

Primitive findings

The Flower of Life probably originated from the Mycenaean civilization of the late Bronze Age. From this time on, the symbol began to be distinguished by the characteristic hexagonal geometry, which returns the depiction of an elegant six-petaled flower.

Flower of Life
Flower of life in an ornamental disk found in a Mycenae tomb of the 16th century BC discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876. Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Marko Manninen [fig.1].

A few centuries later the symbol was certainly used permanently in northern Iran, in Marlik. Here a number of artifacts dating back to the 15th century B.C. [2] have been found engraved with the Flower of Life. The findings, related to about fifty tombs of the local culture, which is still unknown, are preserved at the Louvre Museum.

Flower of life
Lower portion of a gold chalice found in Marlik, preserved at the Louvre Museum. Photo: 1985 Photo RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

The symbol then reappeared in Cyprus and a few centuries in Assyria, during the last phase of the Empire.

The symbol is represented inside a cup found in Cyprus (800-700 BC) and preserved at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Among the several artifacts containing the Flower of Life unearthed in the Assyro-Babylonian area – many of which are preserved at the Archaeological Museum in Baghdad – is the paradigmatic one discovered in the remains of the palace of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal at Dur Šarrukin [3] and dating back to 645 BC.

Flower of life
Portion of the floor of the Assurbanipal Palace, Louvre Museum of Paris. Photo by Marko Manninen [fig.2]

A solar symbol

In its earliest attestations, the Flower of Life could be associated with complex cultural contexts that had in symbols an important complement to rituals and anthropological cosmogonies. The symbolism was connected to ancient sun cults, in Assyria probably related to the fertility deity Baal.

The Flower of life in the West

From the Middle East, the Flower of Life reached Europe through trade routes established among Iron Age peoples.

Important evidence of it is known among the Etruscans: it is imprinted on an urn at Civitella di Paganico (Grosseto); on a shield of a warrior of ancient Vetulonia at the Isidoro Falchi Museum in Castiglione della Pescaia (Stele of Auele Feluske).

Flower of life
The Stele of Auele Feluske at the Isidoro Falchi Museum in Castiglione della Pescaia

More fragmentary was certainly the development of the symbol among the civilizations of Celtic-influenced Europe, which drew their origins from the La Tène culture. In particular, it has been found among the peoples of the pre-Roman Iberian peninsula: in Cantabria it is depicted on some funerary stelae; in Galicia as an ornament to the dwellings of the local settlement of Santa Tegra, called oppidum. In this context the Flower of Life was associated with other symbolic representations of similar significance, such as the Camunian Rose of the Val Camonica.

Flower of Life at the Archaeological Museum of Santa Tegra dating back to the first century B.C. (Castro Culture), found in the Celtic oppidum. Photo by Froaringus [fig 3]
Flower of life
Cantabrian funerary stele, found at Monte Cildà (Palencia), Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria. Photo by JI FilpoC [fig. 4]

The Flower of life, symbol of rebirth

Also in Europe, the Flower of Life was associated with the concept of rebirth, with particular reference to solar and fertility cults. In northern Italy, along the Alpine area, for example, it was the depiction of the narcissus (also called Sun of the Alps). The daffodil is the flower that blooms at the first signs of spring, signifying the awakening of nature after the long lethargy of winter. It can be understood, therefore, how the Flower of Life was connected to the cosmogonic cycles of continuous death and return to life. For this reason, it was often inscribed within one or more circles, a figure of the totality of creation.

A daffodil

A moving image

It is unclear whether such cultural influences, related to the concepts of rebirth and fertility, contaminated the Etruscans and other Italic peoples through contemporary Celts, or vice versa. Anyway, the Flower of Life spread very widely in Roman times. It began to be used as a decorative symbol, especially within more complex mosaic representations.

Reconstructing the history of the symbol means going in search of an image in constant cultural motion. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the symbol went from being depicted in the palaces of Assyrian kings to a more popular dimension in Roman imperial times. It had, in such a domestic context, an apotropaic and auspicious value. The Flower of Life was reproduced as a guarantee of existence, so it was believed that the life of the domus owners would be like the sun setting in the evening and rising in the morning, or like the daffodil blooming at the beginning of each spring.

Flower of life
Representation of the symbol at the Domus dell’Ortaglia, Museo di Santa Giulia of Brescia

Christian reinterpretation of the Flower of life

With the ascendancy of Christianity, in the Early Christian era and especially in the Lombard era, the concept of rebirth was reinterpreted in a Christological sense. In accordance with the teachings of the gospel, only Christ could be the authentic personification of life that defeats death. Thus, the Flower of Life acquired the symbolic meaning of the resurrection of man, who can gain eternal life through the saving work of the Messiah.

Flower of life
At St. Peter’s Church in Gemonio

The symbol had its widest spread in the Middle Ages and was placed in numerous buildings of worship scattered throughout Europe, probably by some of the Hierosolymitan orders, including the Knights Templar.

Flower of life
Volterra (PI), portal of the Baptistery of San Giovanni with two Flowers of Life and a Templar cross pattée.

The presence of the Flower of Life, for example, is found at the Templar church of San Bevignate in Perugia or at the blind arches on the facade of the church of San Pietro di Sorres in Borutta.

Church of San Bevignate, Perugia

The geometry of the Flower of Life continued to fascinate the world. Illustrious scientists and learned men caught a glimpse of perfection and universal harmony in it. Among them, Leonardo da Vinci drew the symbol in the Codex Atlanticus, now preserved at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan.

Samuele Corrente Naso

Notes

[1] Drunvalo Melchizedek, The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life, 1999.

[2] G.N. Kurochkin, Archeological search for the Near Eastern Aryans and the royal cemetery of Marlik in northern Iran, Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae

[3] A History of Art in Chaldæa and Assyria, Georges Perrot, Charles Chipiez, London, 1884.

[fig.1] By Marko Manninen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34386315

[fig.2] Di Marko Manninen – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34386314

[fig.3] By Froaringus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12389381

[fig. 4] By Jl FilpoC – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75183801

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