The rose and the flames

(After some extended moments of reflections on religious belief, this posting will venture into the sexual wilds, and the later material will not be suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

Two design drawings by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky (from a set available to the public in an Instagram file): one a rose window (alluding indirectly to such images at Stanford’s Memorial Church, which serve as potent Christian symbols); and one suggesting tongues of flame / fire (alluding to those that figure in the Christian religious holiday of Pentecost, which fell this year on Sunday, May 20th). Two religious symbols, with associated linguistic expressions (rose window; tongues of flame/fireto speak in tongues).

First, things: the rose, and flames.

Then, these things serving as symbols in Christian ways of thinking (actually, each can have several different symbolic values, even within this specific sociocultural context).

Then, these symbols, with these values, deployed in art, music, film, and fiction, and even in food and in plant names.

Then, the original things — rose and flames — serving as symbols in other sociocultural contexts: in particular, as sexual symbols, for body parts and for sexual acts.

The EDZ designs.

(#1) A stylized rose, in what EDZ takes to be a rose window

Note on symmetries: rose windows mostly have petals in multiples of 4: 4 (as above), 8, and 12 (the number of Jesus Christ’s apostles; also of months of the year, of Western astrological signs, of the Tribes of Israel, and of the days of Christmas) are all very common; there are 16 in Memorial Church’s dome window; and larger multiples (20 and 32, in particular) are also common. There are 6-petaled windows among the images on the net.  And at least one 10-petaled example. Actual rose flowers (and the flowers of other plants in the Rosaceae, like strawberries and cherry trees) are 5-petaled, but 5-petaled rose windows seem to be extremely rare.

(#2) Stylized flames, interpreted by me as flaming tongues

Rose windows. From Wikipedia:

A rose window or Catherine window is often used as a generic term applied to a circular window, but is especially used for those found in churches of the Gothic architectural style and being divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery.

(#3) Rose window (mullioned, with 20 petals) at Notre-Dame de Paris

The name “rose window” [alluding to the flower] was not used before the 17th century…

The term “wheel window” is often applied to a window divided by simple spokes radiating from a central boss or opening, while the term “rose window” is reserved for those windows, sometimes of a highly complex design, which can be seen to bear similarity to a multi-petalled rose. Rose windows are also called Catherine windows after Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel. A circular window without tracery such as are found in many Italian churches, is referred to as an ocular window or oculus.

Rose windows are particularly characteristic of Gothic architecture and may be seen in all the major Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France. Their origins are much earlier and rose windows may be seen in various forms throughout the Medieval period. Their popularity was revived, with other medieval features, during the Gothic revival of the 19th century so that they are seen in Christian churches all over the world.

(#4) Rose window (32-petaled) in Strasbourg Cathedral (in northern France)

… In Gothic cathedrals and churches, where a rose is often found above the West Door, the most common subject of the stained glass that it contains is the Last Judgement, which by a long tradition is depicted either in mural or glass on the western wall of the building. In such windows Christ is shown seated in the centre “light” and within the lights around him are the symbols of the four Gospel writers, Apostles, Prophets, Saints and Angels. Some windows show God’s dominion over Heaven and Earth by including Zodiacal signs and Labours of the Months.

When rose windows are used in the transept ends, then one of those windows is frequently dedicated to Mary as the Mother of Jesus. In modern Catholic thought, the rose window is often associated with the Virgin Mary because one of her titles, referred to by St Bernard of Clairvaux, is the “Mystical Rose”. However, the specific association of Mary with the rose window is unlikely during the Medieval period, because the term “rose window” was not coined until the 17th century, a time when few such windows were being constructed. However, with the revival of the Gothic style in the 19th and 20th centuries, much stained glass that was installed in rose windows, both in new churches and as restoration in old churches, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

[Something of a digression, provoked by Karen Schaffer, on vacation in Paris and reporting on Facebook on “the gorgeous stained glass dome of the Galeries Lafayette” (the upscale department store):

(#5) 10-petal rose window in a cathedral of commerce]

Some modern collegiate Gothic Revival churches — I’m well-acquainted with three of these (the Princeton University Chapel, Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, and Memorial Church at Stanford) — are impressively cathedral-like in appearance, but are officially non-denominational and avoid heavy Marian symbolism. Otherwise, however, their stained-glass windows exploit pretty much the full range of Christian symbolism, including in rose windows with a center standing for Christ and with petals standing for other religious figures around him.

Stanford’s Memorial Church had a rose window in its front facade, but that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The replacement window provides some of the feel of a rose window — a 4-part circular inset at the top, the top 6 sections of a 12-petal window taking up the top two-thirds of the window — without actually reproducing one.


Inside the church, the dome has that 16-section plain glass window:

(#7) Panoramic view of the chancel in MemChu

These are the two elements that EDZ distilled into her (4-petal) design.

Flaming tongues. From my 11/28/16 posting “My tongue broke out in unknown strains”, about the passionate Pentecost hymn Conversion (#297 in the 1991 Denson revison of the Sacred Harp):

In the events alluded to here, on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, a group of very early Christians (among them, the Apostles and Mary, the Mother of God) are possessed, enraptured, by the Holy Spirit, manifested as tongues of flame that descend upon them, granting them God’s grace and so transforming them, making them new, and, in addition, giving them the ability to speak in all languages (earthly or divine), to speak in tongues, as this ability came to be known.

(#8) A Western depiction of the Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout (1732)

So Pentecost is one of a small set of linguists’ holidays (up there with Hangul Day in Korea and an assortment of invented occasions like National Grammar Day).

… the fiery aspect of the story has provided names for (at least) novels (Tim Parks, Tongues of Flame), films, and rock groups (Flaming Lips), if only through the vivid expressions tongues of flame/fire, tongues on fire, tongues afire, flaming tongues/lips. The Parks books goes beyond this, since it’s about its protagonist’s struggle to feign glossolalia to fit into his church.

So as a Christian religious symbol, flames symbolize the Holy Spirit. (I’m not going to try to explain the Holy Spirit; I have enough difficulty explaining God the Father and God the Son to non-Christians, but the Holy Ghost absolutely defeats me. In fact, I’ve had people tell me that there is no way to explicate the third member of the Holy Trinity without falling into heresy from someone‘s point of view.) But flames can also be seen simply as light, and therefore as a symbol of Jesus, together with his followers, thanks to this passage from John 8:12 (KJV): “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The 2016 posting alludes to films, two of them silent films that use the nominal tongues of flame to refer to fires: the 1918 Tongues of Flame (the flames are a forest fire) and the 1924 Tongues of Flame (the flames are a deliberately set fire). Other films carry the fiery imagery into sexual territory; to come below.

Also from that posting, the rock band. From Wikipedia:

(#9) Flaming Lips in concert on March 16, 2006

The Flaming Lips are an American rock band formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The group recorded several albums and EPs on an indie label, Restless, in the 1980s and early 1990s. After signing to Warner Brothers, they released their first record with Warner, “Hit to Death in the Future Head” (1992). They later released The Soft Bulletin (1999), which was NME

Rock music, by default, comes with sexual undertones if not more, and the shift from tongues to lips highlights the sexual imagery.

As for the Tim Parks novel, to add to the note above, from the publisher’s copy:


A paperback edition of a novel, unavailable for several years, which tells of the havoc wreaked when religious fervour reaches fever pitch among the newly converted at an Easter houseparty.

Then, in a 6/7/17 posting “The word came down on Pentecost”, about flaming tongues and the nominal flaming tongues, references to the hymn text “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, set to various tunes (the Denson Sacred Harp has four of them); rock music by Daniel Menche; a daylily cultivar (flaming in color); and (dipping into explicit sexual content) men wielding flaming tongues in sex (kissing and more). All illustrated in that posting.

But now there’s more. In this year’s crop: Christian music from the Flaming Tongues organization; flaming cupcakes for Pentecost; a Flaming Tongues Zippo lighter for Rolling Stones concerts; (moving into explicitly sexual material) lesbian porn flicks entitled Flaming Tongues; and artist David Wojnarowicz’s sexually explicit memories of his childhood in his work Tongues of Flame.

The Christian music organization, from their website:


Flaming Tongues is a fellowship of Music Lovers. Flaming Tongues is an inter denominational music ministry founded in Kerala [south India] by Wycliffe Cherian. It is a faith-based non-profitable organisation. It’s mission is to help musicians to fan into flames their musical talents and gifts through training programs, stage programs and association with the band. To achieve this goal, Flaming Tongues conducts musical events, concerts, online training, campus training programs and choral training.

Then from the Catholic Cuisine site:

(#12) Flaming Cupcakes for Pentecost!

Moving to the decidedly secular, this Flaming Tongues Zippo lighter to flick at  Rolling Stones concerts:


On the logo, from Wikipedia:

John Pasche (born 24 April 1945) is a British art designer, most famous for designing the “Tongue and Lip Design” logo for the rock band The Rolling Stones.

… For The Rolling Stones, Pasche designed the “Tongue and Lip Design” logo in 1969, which was originally reproduced on the Sticky Fingers album. In August 2008, the design was voted the greatest band logo of all time in an online poll.

The tongue and lips as organs of speech and song and also as sexual organs, with flames symbolizing sexual heat.

Then all the way with sexually hot tongues, in cunnilingus, in Flaming Tongues (a 1985 lesbian porn DVD, with two sequels). Ad copy:


Stars: Lisa DeLeeuw, Bunny Bleu, Crystal Breeze, Stacey Donovan, Lois Ayres. An intimate look at lesbians in today’s business world. Flaming Tongues erotically explores the inner workings of Vibrating Vixens, whose owners Rhonda Winfield and Sharon Nettles are door-to-door dildo salespersons. By deftly balancing the hard sell with the soft touch, their sex toy enterprise booms with success. Quickly, the two ladies lustfully learn that giving realistic demonstrations is the quickest way to pulsating profits. Finally, the foxy females are forced to hire an eager beaver assistant named Jill Mattingly. And… it doesn’t take long for Rhonda and Sharon to discover, much to their delight, that the decadent doll has lots of hot new sales tricks up her tight skirt… and down her blouse.

Finally, David Wojnarowicz, Tongues of Flame (exhibition catalog, 1990; book 1991). From the Library Journal:


[On] Wojnarowicz…, a participant in two Whitney Biennials and well known as a target of Reverend Donald Wildmon’s (American Family Association) anti-art campaigns… A fragment of autobiography as art and a retrospective of ten years of his work represent him here. In Memories . . . the artist uses childlike line drawings and ink paintings to illustrate three short, graphically sexual scenes from his youth and a longer montage from 1991 when he is living with and dying of AIDS. His matter-of-fact descriptions — void of self-pity, regret, or apology — explore his own ability to recall and reclaim personal brutality and challenge the reader’s ability to understand without rationalization. His stream-of-conciousness style has found its best matches in content and tone here. … Tongues of Flame was originally a limited edition catalog accompanying a 1990 retrospective show organized by Illinois State Univ. Galleries. In contrast to the deceptively simple personal intensity of Memories , this collection of 100 reproductions and ten essays overwhelms with its diversity of styles and whirlwind of emotions. Though the performances, sculpture, and film are all presented here, the best pieces are the collages, which combine painting, photography, and cartoons. These collages juxtapose and relate nature/man (buffalos, ants, and dung beetles are all common) to civilization. Throughout, the works simultaneously examine possibilities for personal liberty/identity and expose government / media / religious institutions that oppress.

And on the artist:

(#16) Self-portrait with collage (including tongues of flame)

Roses. Both flames and tongues are easily seen as phallic symbols. The flowers of double roses, on the other hand, easily serve as sexavital symbols.

On the religious symbolism of roses, see above. Then there’s the rose, especially a red rose, as a muted symbol of love — or passion. And on into more carnal symbolism. This symbolism was surveyed in my 8/29/13 posting “Kissing the rose”. Snapshots from that posting:

#1: a reproduction of a sensuous painting, The Soul of the Rose (1908) by John William Waterhouse, with commentary

“The rose — in particular, in the form of a rosette — appears frequently as a carnal symbol in pornographic writing, sometimes standing for the vagina but very frequently for the anus.”

#2: an example of a rose window (#3 in this posting, above; in 2013 considered as a rosette)

verbal and visual examples of the rose as anal symbol

#3, #4: mansexual posters for Jean Genet’s The Miracle of the Rose and Querelle de Brest


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