The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980 Page: 227
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"The Roses So Red and The Lilies So Fair":
Southern Folk Cemeteries
TERRY G. JORDAN*
AN UNINITIATED VISITOR TO TRADITIONAL RURAL SOUTHERN PROTES-
tant churches and nearby cemeteries in eastern Texas might well
be surprised and puzzled by a seeming contradiction. In the plain white
board chapels, the theology of Calvin, Wesley, and Knox discourages
visual religious symbolism of almost every kind, even a simple cross and
steeple.' Unless painted signs identify the chapels, the visitor will have
difficulty ascertaining whether the structures are houses of worship,
schools, or lodge halls, so completely has the religious symbolism been
rooted out. But beyond the arched gateways of rural graveyards in the
same neighborhood, a bewildering variety of symbols, pagan and Chris-
tian alike, competes for visual attention. The symbolism suppressed for
centuries in the chapels seems to burst forth all the more vigorously in
the cemeteries, making the folk graveyard of eastern Texas and the
American South a confusing, fascinating, and ultimately revealing place.
*Terry G. Jordan, a sixth-generation Texan, is a cultural geographer at North Texas
State University, Denton Funds to support research for this article were granted for 1977-
1978 by the Faculty Research Committee of North Texas State University. The title comes
from a stanza in the southern folk song "The Pale Wildwood Flower," the lament of a
young woman abandoned by her lover:
"I will twine with these locks of raven black hair
The roses so red and the lilies so fair,
The myrtle so bright with its emerald hue,
And the pale amaranth with eyes of dark blue."
This stanza of the lament is laden with symbols of death and burial, for all of the flowers
mentioned are hallmarks of traditional cemeteries. The amaranth, because it retains its
color even when dead, is often placed on graves by mourners. Though the woman vows
in other stanzas to live a full and happy life, her flowers belong to death.
ISee Terry G. Jordan, "The Traditional Southern Rural Chapel in Texas," Ecumene,
VIII (Mar., 1976), 6-17. Wesley, for example, felt that "true religion does not consist in
... any outward thing whatever, in anything exterior to the heart." He did not believe
in consecrated church buildings. Oscar Sherwin, John Wesley: Friend of the People (New
York, 1961), lo1. See also Frank Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England (Nashville,
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980, periodical, 1979/1980; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101207/m1/271/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.