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What is a Fleur-de-Lis?

The fleur-de-lis, sometimes spelled fleur-de-lys, is an ancient symbol, although it has come to be closely associated with the nation of France.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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The fleur-de-lis, sometimes spelled fleur-de-lys, is an ancient symbol, although it has come to be closely associated with the nation of France. It consists of three spikes resembling the petals of a flower rising from a central crossbar, and it is clearly intended to represent an iris or lily. Highly stylized floral designs have been used in art and heraldry for a very long time, and the fleur-de-lis is one of the most enduring of these symbols. The basic stylized iris design appears on pottery from ancient civilizations including Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece.

In Old French, the name translates into “flower of the lily.” The symbolism of a fleur-de-lis goes beyond the simple floral image, however. Lilies are associated with the Virgin Mary, and the fleur-de-lis is closely associated with Mary and her virtues as well, as a result. The three spikes are suggestive of the Holy Trinity, and also of a common trio of Christian values: faith, wisdom, and chastity. As such, the fleur-de-lis serves as a symbol of purity and Christian faith.

Around the 1200s, the fleur-de-lis was adopted as a symbol by the French royalty. Using a holy symbol enforced the idea that the ruler was governing by the will of God, and also that members of the French royalty embodied the virtues suggested by the fleur-de-lis. The symbol has other heraldic uses as well, and appears on crests from many other nations including England and Scotland.

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In addition to being a heraldic symbol, the fleur-de-lis is also used decoratively. It is often used in ironwork, and as a motif for wall paper, fabric patterns, tile, and book bindings. Many people who feel a close connection with France and French culture have fleur-de-lis ornaments around the home, while numerous organizations use the fleur-de-lis in their logos. It also appears on some regional flags, especially since the classic association with French royalty is beginning to fade.

The proportions and dimensions of the fleur-de-lis vary, depending on the setting. As a general rule, the center spike or petal is larger and more rounded than the two which flank it. Underneath the crossbar, a decorative flourish meant to serve as a continuation of the petals is common. A variety of colors and shades can be used, and many artists draw a fleur-de-lis which is split into two colors, for distinct contrast. Highly stylized designs may bear little resemblance to the original fleur-de-lis, but are generally recognizable because the symbol is so universal.

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anon313395
Post 3

This really helped me. I have a project due and this was very good information.

Valencia
Post 2

@Penzance356 - That's a lovely story. I was told this symbol can also mean perfection and love, which makes it totally fitting for a wedding or engagement ring.

Last year I bought my father a fleur-de-lis design outdoor fountain thing, which looks very majestic. It's great that one design can look so good on so many different things of various sizes.

Penzance356
Post 1

I've been looking for more information on fleur-de-lis symbolism since my mother gave me a family heirloom with this design.

The story behind it is that my great grandparents fell in love in France but were separated by war. They met again by chance, married soon after, and their wedding ring was the piece of antique fleur-de-lis jewelery which I am now responsible for.

Perhaps the story has been embellished through the years but it's still really romantic to me. I hope one day I can use it on my special day.

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