Bears Breech

(Acanthus mollis) A strange name. Halliwell quotes as an archaism a verb to breech, meaning to flog or whip, and this is made interesting by another old name for the plant, Brank Ursin. Branks, it seems, was a word for a kind of halter or bridle. Ursin, of course, is the bear (Watts. 2000). The leaves of this and other Acanthus species (notably A spinosissimus) were the motifs for the designs of the capitals of Corinthian columns of the Greeks and Romans, and were much imitated in the architecture of the Middle Ages. According to one legend, Callimachus,a Greek architect, was visiting the tomb of a young girl who had died on the eve of her wedding. There, standing on an Acanthus plant and left by a previous visitor, was a basket covered with a tile. Callimachus noticed that the leaves had been forced back by the tile into a decorative shape, and he adopted the motif to fit the pillars of the temple he was building at Corinth (Perry. 1972). Acanthus patterns often figure in old needlework. See, for instance, the 10th century St Cuthbert's stole in Durham cathedral. In some legends it was one of the plants used for Christ's Crown of Thorns. In the language of flowers, the acanthus symbolises the cult of fine arts (Rambosson), and in Christian symbolism, it was used to indicate Heaven (in the Ravenna mosaics). The trees of Jesse and the Trees of Life in early art are also founded on the Acanthus. After the 13th century, the use in symbolism ceased, and the use as a purely decorative motif took its place (Haig).

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