CHAPTER 3 – IRIS OR LILY?
The lily is referenced in the Bible and is found in the art and architecture of the Near East. European irises and lily flowers were considered related until modern classification systems placed them in different families. By then the fleur de lis, which translates to “lily flower," was a stylized “brand.” The French fleurs de lis look more like Gallic irises than lilies. Some even suggest the symbol is a bee. Scholars continue to debate ancient roots. But when new arrivals to Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast found a profusion of irises blooming, they took note: it was, one settler proclaimed, “as if the royal House of Bourbon had sprinkled the landscape with its divine symbol to stake claim to the new territory.”
The fleur de lis arrived on Gulf shores as a “known quantity.” It ar-rived with the first explorers. It ar-rived with the government and mili-tary infrastructure sent to hold the claim. It was brought by "company men" to consummate contracts made in the new colonies.
Sovereigns granted commercial en-terprises monopolies to develop New World colonies. The French West In-dies Company, a primary developer of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, would correspond with legal authority vested in it by the King of France.
All property was stamped and brand-ed. Thus, the fleur came seared into the flesh of the prisoners of France that were sent to populate Louisiana and the first slaves that arrived to build the capital. That stamp meant: “You belong to the realm.”
Everyone, including the royals, in fact, belonged to the realm: the realm was an integral part of the "universal" Catholic Church. Fleur de lis designs adorned Christian monuments for centuries. The idea of separation of church and state was unthinkable to the Catholic monarchs of France and Spain. As such, the fleur de lis was built into - if not literally carried into - the Catholic churches and cathedrals of the New World.
The three pedaled flower legendarily represents the Holy Trinity. The symbol is also associated with Mary, Jesus' mother. However, the alternat-ing three lower pedals at the base create a "reflection" that endorses the upper structure and prompts fur-ther contemplation. Some numerolo-gists and believers in the occult sug-gest other meanings of spirituality - perhaps not as pure as Mary.
In New Orleans Vodou, for instance, the fleur provides and apt symbol for the idea that the world of the living is reflected in the spiritual realm. In fact, many of the slaves and prison-ers branded with the fleur de lis would become masters and princes of the new colony.