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Roses have been long used as symbols in a number of societies. Roses are ancient symbols of love and beauty. "Rose" means pink or red in a variety of languages (such as the Romance languages and Greek).
The rose was sacred to a number of goddesses including Isis, whose rose appears in the late classical allegorical novel The Golden Ass as "the sweet Rose of reason and virtue" that saves the hero from his bewitched life in the form of a donkey. The ancient Greeks and Romans identified the rose with the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Greek name) and Venus (Roman name).
In Rome a wild rose would be placed on the door of a room where secret or confidential matters were discussed. The phrase sub rosa, or "under the rose", means to keep a secret — derived from this ancient Roman practice.
The cultivation of geometrical gardens, in which the rose has often held pride of place, has a long history in Iran and surrounding lands. In the lyric ghazal, it is the beauty of the rose that provokes the longing song of the nightingale - an image prominent, for example, in the poems of Hafez.
In turn, the imagery of lover and beloved became a type of the Sufi mystic's quest for divine love, so that Ibn Arabi, for example, aligns the rose with the beloved's blushing cheek on the one hand and, on the other, with the divine names and attributes.
Other well-known examples of rose symbolism in Sufism include;
Medieval Christians identified the five petals of the rose with the five wounds of Christ. Roses also later came to be associated with the Virgin Mary. The red rose was eventually adopted as a symbol of the blood of the Christian martyrs. A bouquet of red roses, often used to show love, is used as a Valentine's Day gift in many countries.
On St George's Day in Catalonia people offer dark red roses as gifts, especially between lovers. The Virolai, a hymn to the Virgin of Montserrat, one of the black Madonnas of Europe, begins with the words: "Rosa d’abril, Morena de la serra..." (April rose, dusky lady of the mountain chain...). Therefore this virgin is sometimes known as “Rosa d’abril”. The red rose is thus widely accepted as an unofficial symbol of Catalonia.
Roses are occasionally the basis of design for rose windows comprising five or ten segments (the five petals and five sepals of a rose) or multiples thereof, though most Gothic rose windows are much more elaborate.
The rose is the national flower of England. The usage dates from the reign of Henry VII who introduced the Tudor rose, combining a red rose, representing the House of Lancaster, and a white rose, representing the House of York, as a symbol of unity after the English civil wars of the 15th century which, long after, came to be called the Wars of the Roses. The rose thus appears in the histories of William Shakespeare and in the Child Ballads. It has been the symbol of England Rugby, and of the Rugby Football Union, since 1871.
In 1986 it was named the floral emblem of the United States, and it is the provincial flower of Alberta (the wild rose) in Canada. It is the state flower of four US states: Iowa and North Dakota (R. arkansana), Georgia (R. laevigata), and New York (Rosa generally). Portland, Oregon counts "City of Roses" among its nicknames, and holds an annual Rose Festival, as does Pasadena, California, holding the Tournament of Roses Parade since 1890 in conjunction with the Rose Bowl since 1902.
A red rose (often held in a hand) is a symbol of socialism or social democracy: it is used as a symbol by British, Irish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Brazilian, Dutch, Bulgarian and other European labour, socialist or social democratic parties, mostly adopted in the period after World War II.