The hazel is a deciduous tree common in the Northern hemisphere and especially important in the British Isles.
Trees hold nearly universal significance across cultures, symbolizing life, redemption, kinship and tradition, wisdom, sustenance, shelter.
In the Christian tradition we find the Tree of Life, the Tree of Jesse, the Rood--all images intertwined, enriching each-other, all speaking of life in Christ and in the Church, life blossoming, producing fruit, Life in abundance.
In medieval European consciousness the hazel tree was associated with water: frequently found planted around holy wells and places of spiritual significance.
“And she shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth her fruit in season; her leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever she doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:3
Medieval pilgrims, especially in the British Isles, carried staffs made of hazel wood. These staffs symbolized the life of grace, pilgrimage, and were often buried with their owners.
St. Patrick, it is said, expelled the snakes from Ireland using a rod of hazel.
An old pious legend claims that it was a hazel tree that sheltered the Holy Family on their flight to Egypt.
Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea,” is an ancient title of the Virgin Mary.
Love […] is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
Stella Maris, the “sea-star” is another name of the star Polaris, also called the “lodestar” or “steering star” because, since ancient times, mariners have used it for navigation at sea.
In Christian tradition Mary becomes the “lodestar” of the Church: the light that guides us to our ultimate destination, the “true North”: Christ.
In the 12th century St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary.”