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What Is the Meaning of White Lilly?

By Andrea Howland-Myers ; Updated July 21, 2017
The white lily
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The white lily is a flower familiar to most, both because of its beauty and because of the rich symbolic meaning various cultures have given to it.

The Flower

The white lily is a six-petaled flower with six stamens.
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The white lily's scientific name is Lilium candidum. According to its USDA PLANTS profile, it's a member of the lily family (Liliaceae) and genus (Lilium). It is a six-petaled flower with six stamens, white in color with yellow at the base of each flower. Desert Tropicals states that it originates from the Balkans and Middle East.

Religious Significance

The white lily is commonly referred to as the Madonna Lily.
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The white lily is also commonly referred to as the Madonna Lily and is strongly associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary, especially in Roman Catholicism.

Meaning in the Song of Songs

Some assert that the word 'shoshannah' in the bible is referring to the white lily.
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Some scholars, including Abraham Bin Ezra, assert that the word "shoshannah" in the biblical Song of Songs refers to the white lily, and not to a rose as is commonly thought. Thus, the narrator describes his love's exceptional beauty by saying, "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters."

Meaning in the Victorian Era

The Victorians assigned meanings to all common flowers.
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The Victorians assigned detailed meanings to all common flowers and used them to communicate with each other. In her book "The Language of Flowers", Kate Greenaway listed the white lily as representing purity, modesty, and sweetness.

Figurative language

There is a strong link between the white lily and qualities of purity and modesty.
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Because of the strong cultural link between the white lily and the qualities of purity and modesty, this flower pops up in figurative descriptions (sometimes including negative or sarcastic ones) of people as pure and innocent. "Lily-white" is the most common phrase used to describe people in this way.