The Golden Rose is a gold ornament, which popes have traditionally blessed annually. It is occasionally conferred as a token of reverence or affection. Recipients have included churches and sanctuaries, royalty, military figures, and governments.
The rose is blessed on the fourth Sunday of Lent, Lætare Sunday (hence also known as Rose Sunday), when rose-coloured vestments and draperies are substituted for the penitential purple, symbolizing hope and joy in the midst of Lenten solemnity. Throughout most of Lent, Catholics pray, fast, perform penance and meditate upon the malice of sin and the terrible punishment it brings; Rose Sunday is an opportunity to look beyond Christ's death at Calvary and see Christ, the redeemer, risen in the first rays of the Easter sun, and rejoice. The shining golden flower shows forth Christ's majesty, appropriate because prophets called him "the flower of the field and the lily of the valleys." Its fragrance, according to Pope Leo XIII "shows the sweet odor of Christ which should be widely diffused by His faithful followers" (Acta, vol. VI, 104), and the thorns and red tint refer to His Passion. See Isaiah 63:2: "Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?"
Many papal diplomas and papal sermons when conferring it have explained the rose's mystical significance. Innocent III said: "As Lætare Sunday, the day set apart for the function, represents love after hate, joy after sorrow, and fullness after hunger, so does the rose designate by its colour, odour and taste, love, joy and satiety respectively." and compared the rose to the flower referred to in Isaiah 11:1: "There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root."
Prior to the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84) the Golden Rose consisted of a simple and single blossom made of pure gold and slightly tinted with red. Later, to embellish the ornament while still retaining the mystical symbolism, the gold was left untinted but rubies and afterwards many precious gems were placed in the heart of the rose or on its petals.
Pope Sixtus IV substituted in place of the single rose a thorny branch with leaves and many (ten or more) roses, the largest of which sprang from the top of the branch with smaller roses clustering around it. In the center of the principal rose was a tiny cup with a perforated cover, into which the pope poured musk and balsam to bless the rose. The whole ornament was of pure gold. This 'Sixtine' design was maintained but varied as to decoration, size, weight and value. Originally it was little over six inches in height, and was easily carried in pope's left hand as he blessed the multitude with his right hand, when passing in procession from the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (in Rome) to the Lateran Palace. Afterwards, especially when a vase and large pedestal became part of the ornament, a robust cleric was required to carry it, preceding the papal cross in the procession. The rose sent to Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick, wife of Joseph I, afterwards emperor, by Innocent XI, weighed twenty pounds and was almost eighteen inches high. It was in bouquet form, with three twisting branches that came together after many windings at the top of the stem, supporting a large rose and cluster of leaves.
Vase and pedestal
The vase and the pedestal supporting it have varied as to material, weight, and form. In the beginning they were made of gold; but afterward of silver heavily gilt with gold. The pedestal can be either triangular, quadrangular, or octangular, and is richly ornamented with various decorations and bas-reliefs. In addition to the customary inscription, the coat of arms of the pope who had the ornament made, and that of he who blessed and conferred it, are engraved on the pedestal.
The value of the rose varies according to the munificence of the pontiffs or the economical circumstances of the times. Father Baldassari, S.J. (De Rosa Mediana, p. 190) says that the rose conferred about the year 1650 cost five hundred dollars. The two roses sent by Pope Alexander VII were valued at eight and twelve hundred dollars respectively. Pope Clement IX sent the Queen of France one costing twelve hundred dollars, made of eight pounds of gold. The workmanship on this rose was exceedingly fine, for which the artificer received three hundred dollars. Innocent IX caused eight and one-half pounds of gold to be formed into a rose, which was further embellished with many sapphires, costing in all fourteen hundred dollars. In the 19th century not a few of the roses cost two thousand dollars and more.
The exact date of the institution of the rose is unknown. According to some it is anterior to Charlemagne (742-814), according to others it had its origin at the end of the 12th century, but it certainly antedates the year 1050, since Pope Leo IX (1051) speaks of the rose as of an ancient institution at his time.
The custom, started when the popes moved to Avignon, of conferring the rose upon the most deserving prince at the papal court, continued after the papacy moved back to Rome. The prince would receive the rose from the pope in a solemn ceremony and be accompanied by the College of Cardinals from the papal palace to his residence. From the beginning of the seventeenth century, the rose was sent only to queens, princesses and eminent noblemen. Emperors, kings and princes were given a sword as a more suitable gift. However, if a deserving Catholic emperor, king or other great prince was present in Rome on Lætare Sunday, he would be presented with the rose. The office of carrying and conferring the rose upon those living outside of Rome was given by the pope to cardinal legates a latere, nuncios, inter-nuncios and Apostolic ablegates. In 1895 a new office, called "Bearer of the Golden Rose" or "Keeper of the Golden Rose", destined for Members of Royal Houses (not hereditary), was instituted, and assigned to a secret chamberlain of sword and cloak participant, a rank within the Papal Household, but it has ceased to exist.
Originally (before the papacy moved to Avignon) the rose was blessed in the Hall of Vestments (sacristy) in the palace where the pope was; but the solemn Mass and the donation of the rose took place in the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (a figure, according to Pope Innocent III, of the heavenly Jerusalem). The blessing was followed by a solemn Mass sung either by the pope himself or the first Cardinal Priest. In the former case the rose was placed on a veil of rose-colored silk richly embroidered with gold; in the latter the pope held the rose in his hand, except while kneeling, or during the Introit, Confiteor, Elevation and the singing of "Laudemus in Domino". Rose in hand, the pope returned processionally to the Lateran Palace; the Prefect of Rome led his horse by the bridle and aided him in dismounting. Upon arrival, he gave the rose to the Prefect, as a recompense for these acts of respect and homage. Prior to 1305, the rose was given in Rome to no foreigner, except the Emperor on the day of his coronation. While residing at Avignon (1305-1375), the popes, unable to visit Roman churches and basilicas, performed many of their sacred functions, among them the blessing of the rose, in the private chapel of their palace (whence the origin of the Cappella Pontificia). On their return to Rome they (Sixtus V excepted) retained this custom.
The blessing of the rose now takes place in the Hall of Vestments (camera dei parimenti), and the solemn Mass in the papal chapel. The rose is placed on a table with lighted candles, and the pope, vested in alb and rose-colored stole and cope with precious mitre on his head, begins the ceremony with the usual versicles and the following poetical prayer: "O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created, by Whose will all things are directed, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful, that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose, most delightful in odour and appearance, which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy, in order that the people consecrated by Thee and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery through the favour of Thine only-begotten Son, Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother, may with sincere hearts show forth their joy. Wherefore, O Lord, on this day, when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign [the rose], confer upon us through her true and perfect joy and accepting her devotion of today; do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy, drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous, so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works, may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower sprung from the root of Jesse and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys, and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints."
The prayer finished, the pope puts incense (handed by the cardinal-deacon) into the censer and incenses the balsam and then the musk, and afterwards puts the balsam and powdered musk into the tiny cup in the heart of the principal rose. He then incenses the rose and sprinkles it with holy water. It is then given to the youngest cleric of the Camera, who carries it in front of the pope to the chapel, where it is placed on the altar at the foot of the cross upon a richly embroidered silk veil, where it remains during the Mass sung by the first cardinal-priest. After the Mass, the rose is carried in procession before the pope to the sacristy, where it is carefully put away in a place set apart for it, until bestowed upon some worthy personage.
Among the many people who received the gift, the following are noteworthy:
In the second half of the twentieth century, awards of the Golden Rose became very rare, and were all conferred upon places, mostly shrines. Pope Paul VI, for instance, made only five grants of the Golden Rose during his pontificate, that lasted from 1963 until 1978, and none of them were given to people, but to places of devotion. Pope John Paul II made three awards of the Golden Rose, each to a different shrine, during his 27 year pontificate. Thus, the conferral of the Golden Rose can be considered a great privilege.
The Golden Rose was awarded in the Pontificate of John Paul II to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes (France), and to St. Joseph's Oratory (Canada) in 2004.
Pope Benedict XVI has made five awards of the Golden Rose so far. His first award was made in 2006, to the Sanctuary of Jasna Góra (Częstochowa - Poland). Two more were granted to the Basilica of Aparecida (Brazil) and to the Mariazell Basilica (Austria), in 2007. In 2008, during his apostolic pilgrimage to the United States, he bestowed the Golden Rose upon the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Pope Benedict XVI's fifth rose was presented to the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria in Cagliari, Italy on September 8, 2008.