The Meaning of the Fleur-de-Lys
fleur-de-lysAmericans today associate the fleur-de-lys primarily with New Orleans, my favorite city, which is why I am using it on my website. However, it has many other associations, a long and varied history, and many layers of meaning:
  • First and foremost, it is a symbol of France (hence the New Orleans connection.)
  • The three petals can be symbolic of the Christian Trinity (hence its connection with Catholicism.)
  • In the Medieval era, the three petals were supposed to represent purity, virginity, and chastity, which are qualities we can apply to …
  • … Joan of Arc, who wore it on her shield and who was known, of course, as “The Maid of Orleans.”
  • Consider the former and make up your own joke about “purity, virginity, and chastity” and New Orleans now!
  • The fleur-de-lys does, however, predate Christianity; on a Roman coin, Gaul (which was comprised of France and Belgium before they became France and Belgium) is personified as a woman holding a fleur-de-lys.
  • People argue about whether the flower is a lily or an iris. I’ve always voted for the iris, but the truth is that until the 19th century, people thought that the iris and the lily were in the same family. They aren’t.
  • France and England are referred to symbolically as “the lily and the rose.” The French and the English are sometimes thought to be in the same family. They aren’t.
  • Much of European heraldry—not just French heraldry—includes the fleur-de-lys. It just looks so darned official! The color purple indicates royalty, so I might be right after all about it being a purple iris.
  • “Iris” was a Greek goddess, the messenger of the gods who led the souls of deceased women to heaven. Her symbol was the rainbow. She has at times been depicted on French stamps; once again, perhaps I’m right about the fleur-de-lys being an iris.
  • The fleur-de-lys was used in spiritual imagery in many parts of the ancient Middle East and Africa, so it has been around for a long, long time, and not just in Europe.

The so-called “fleur-de-lys” symbol in ancient times might not have represented a flower at all … it might have been a bee! Some scholars think so, and gosh darn it, this connection was even made between the New Orleans Saints and the Hornets! See

Plant Guide explains the botany behind the link between bees and the fleur-de-lys: