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The Scents of the Bible for the Year of Mercy


An Italian perfume maker has created a series of fragrances inspired by sacred texts

Expressly for the occasion of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy extraordinary proclaimed by Pope Francis, the Italian creator of perfumes, Laura Tonatto Bosetti, has created a series of fragrances inspired by the scents spoken of in the Bible.

The Turin-based perfumer explains that “myrrh, frankincense, cassia, spikenard, rose are constantly evoked in the Bible, along with more exotic flavors of saffron, amber, cinnamon.” Her Holy Year collection includes three fragrances: Incense of Churches of Rome, Nard of Magdalena, and Mystic Rose.

Natural aromatics are linked to spiritual practices throughout the bible. In the Song of Songs 8:14, the beloved is invited to “be like a gazelle, or a young stag on the spice-laden mountains.” In Exodus 30:23-25, 34 the Lord tells Moses what fragrances to use for the creation of anointing oils and incense: “Take these aromatic substances: storax and onycha and galbanum, these and pure frankincense in equal parts …”

frankincense public domain
Public Domain

“The sense of smell is the most spiritual of all the senses,” opines Bosetti Tonetto, quoting the Talmud (Berakhot 43b) , where it says that the sense of smell “is the only way by which the soul derives pleasure while all others are linked to the body’s needs. “What is that which gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body? You must say that this is fragrant smell.”

When the apostle Peter leans in the empty tomb of Jesus, “the scent of myrrh and aloes would have evoked for him, the presence.”

Bosetti Tonetto notes her choices clearly: the incenses evoke a sense of “a universal liturgy, purification and healing” that dates back to the dawn of time.

Don Macauley/CC

The nard (a flower from the Himalayas) is often mentioned in the Bible; the penitent woman used it to anoint the feet of Jesus, and in Hispanic cultures it has come to symbolize St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church; it appears in the coat of arms of the South American Pope Francis.

rose public domain
Public Domain

Finally, the rose, in Christian iconography is closely associated with Mary, the Mother of Christ, whose title “Mystical Rose” appears in her litany. When she appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, Our Lady of Lourdes was visible in an area where a wild rose bush grew.

Roses also evoke Our Lady of Guadalupe: In 1531 Mary instructed Saint Juan Diego (whose feast day is today) to collect roses (blooming out of season) in his tilma, carrying them to the bishop as proof of Mary’s presence. When Juan Diego spilled the roses from his tilma, there appeared the miraculous image, which survives to this day.


Translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Scalia, with additional content.


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