Semper Augustus was the most desired, most lauded, most rare, and, therefore, most valuable Dutch tulip of the 1600s. Of course, there are no photos from the time of “tulipomania.” Only written descriptions and paintings survive. The bulbs were so scarce, that few ever saw one. A man who owned a few of these tulips rejected offers of 2000-3000 guilders per bulb–a fortune! In comparison, the famous Dutch artist, Rembrandt, only earned 1500 guilders for his most famous painting, and a well-off Dutch merchant of that era might earn 3000 guilders in a year.
Semper Augustus was one of a group of fancifully colored tulips, exhibiting streaks, feathers, or veins of contrasting colors such as white or yellow. Common, solid-hued tulips that bloomed white, red, violet, or yellow one year might blossom the next in delightful new patterns.
These tulips were said to be “broken,” (the original solid color was broken up), and the process of change from a solid color to fantastic streaking was called “breaking.” Of two bulbs of the same color planted together in the same garden bed, one might bloom true, and the other would produce colors that were “broken.”
Tulip growers were mystified. They tried grafting, amending the soil, soaking bulbs in wine, all without success. They did notice that the broken tulips (which had smaller bulbs than standard ones) became weaker each year, until they eventually couldn’t produce a blossom.
Why? They were infected with a virus. Disease-carrying aphids fed on the tulips and transmitted the virus with each “bite.”
The famous broken varieties like the Semper Augustus are gone now, and the only tulips available with similar feathery streaks today are the result of cross-breeding. I find it ironic that the most celebrated tulip’s Latin name means “always” (semper) “majestic” (augustus).
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The white dinner plate slipped out of my soapy hands and crashed to the kitchen floor, breaking into hundreds of tiny shards. There was no repairing, no gluing it back together. I swept the pieces into a dustpan, emptied the fragments into a box, and set the box out by the garbage.
Beyond repair. Useless. Garbage. That’s how we feel sometimes, broken by the weight of our own bad choices, cracked by the pressure of sin that has followed us all since the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve took their disobedient bites, they spread the disease of sin and death into the world. It wasn’t God’s original plan, but it wasn’t the end either.
God doesn’t discard us when we are broken. He is moved to compassion. He reaches out to us in tender, loving kindness with a new plan.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. Psalm 51:17 MSG
There is hope for us. We are living creatures, and God can make us into grow into something beautiful. He can take the worst of circumstances and use them.
Remember Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, carried away to Egypt, and yet became second only to the Pharaoh? The Lord was able to take the hatred, violence, and estrangement in Joseph’s family and transform it into a miracle of God’s providence. Joseph recognized the Lord’s hand in the brokenness of his life:
Don’t you see, you [brothers] planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.
Genesis 50:20 MSG
He can heal our brokenness of spirit. We can bloom beautifully, like the broken Dutch tulips. We are like the Semper Augustus–desired, unique, treasured, even if the virus of sin lives in us. We are so valuable that God sent his only Son to buy us, to save us.
The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 NIV
Refrain: You are strong
In the broken places
I’m carried in Your arms
You are strong
In the broken places
There’s healing in these scars
Broken Places, from Exhale by Plumb
Thanks to Barb Briggs and Martine Burrell for sharing photos.