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Visiting the Japanese Garden, Monaco: abstract microcosm with complex linguistic nuances

Updated on June 1, 2011
Flag of Monaco
Flag of Monaco | Source
Monaco's Japanese Garden
Monaco's Japanese Garden | Source
Monaco's Japanese Garden
Monaco's Japanese Garden | Source
Map of Monaco
Map of Monaco | Source

'Cercis silquastrum' — a Principality's national language rises to the challenge

The garden heritage of the Principality of Monaco is highly absorbing. My tentative boldness to make these few eclectic comments arises from a visit to Monaco's Japanese Garden.

The garden was planned following the wishes of HSH Prince Rainier III and opened in 1994. It thus adds yet more to the already outstanding garden endowments of the Principality.

With the tradition of the Japanese garden, a tendency to abstraction is projected. But as with any horticultural treasures, specific plants and trees add greatly to the value of the living collection.

In Monaco's Japanese Garden, among its particularly valuable possessions is a fine specimen of the Cercis silquastrum ; let me give it first its Linnéan, Latin designation. The common English name is Judas Tree, but therein lies some history. While the Bible relates in various passages that Judas hanged himself after betraying Christ, extra-Biblical tradition holds that he did so from what in English is called the Judas Tree.

So, what about the French term for Cercis silquastrum? can Anglophones just assume that in French one says Arbre de Judas, for Cercis silquastrum?

This is where the matter becomes intriguing. Monaco is a Francophone country, certainly, but in French the usual term for Cercis silquastrum is actually Arbre de Judée , (that is, tree of Judea), and not Arbre de Judas. Back to the English, not because it is the ultimate referent but because it is the language of this article: why does English have Judas Tree ? Well, it is thought that the English usage — widely accepted — is actually a corruption of the French term. Cercis silquastrum occurs in Judea, Lebanon, Syria, and other areas of Western Asia and so the original French term is certainly not mythological.

Thus with Latin, English, French.

In Monégasque — which is designated the national language of Monaco — what would be the equivalent term? Well, alas, I have not been able to find any specific reference to a Monégasque equivalent for Cercis silquastrum, but we may have some clues. In the words of Louis Frolla , the Monégasque lexicographer, the study of the Romance languages is an 'inexhaustible source of precious information about the evolution and interdependence of the neo-Latin languages' (1). In the spirit of that dynamic interdependence which Louis Frolla so rightly highlighted, we can make some assumptions.

First of all, Italian does have,albero di Giuda , 'tree of Judas', i.e., as if the legend of Judas choosing a Cercis silquastrum has exercised a preponderant appeal. But then, it gets more nuanced, because in Italian the term albero di Guidea , 'tree of Judea', for Cercis silquastrum, also has some currency.

So, how about another language of the region? In Corsican — and Corsica has longstanding cultural links with Monaco — both arburi di Ghjuda and arburi di Ghjudea occur. Again, 'occur' here can be somewhat nuanced, because where writers proficient in Corsican may occasionally refer in that medium to a local equivalent for Cercis silquastrum , is it always because of a personal memory of a pre-existing occurrence of either of these forms? or is it, rather, on the basis of applying the dynamic of Corsican to a knowledge of other Romance language equivalents? I leave the question open.

So, regarding a horticultural treasure in Monaco, and a national treasure — the language: to the question of how does one say — or how would one say — Judas Tree in Monégasque, my best guess (and it is only a guess) is that since either àrburu de Giüda and àrburu de Giüdea are quite possible, then — as with Italian and Corsican — neither of these forms would be unsatisfactory. But better and more knowledgeable minds than mine may come to other conclusions.

Indeed, the question and the possible answer are as nuanced as the symbolism in a Japanese garden ... .

...and an interesting literary allusion

But then it gets more interesting because the tradition in question gave rise to the 1961 novel The Judas Tree , by the writer A. J. Cronin, who, even more interestingly, lived in Cap-d'Ail, a neighbouring French town, adjoining Monaco. But let us not jump to conclusions: it cannot have been this Judas Tree in Monaco's Japanese Garden which inspired Cronin's reflections, because the Japanese Garden was not planted until 1994, some decades after Cronin published his novel.

But, then, there is a specimen of the Cercis silquastrum in Monaco's Exotic Garden (Jardin exotique de Monaco) ...

Monaco's garden heritage is indeed highly absorbing, I think. And so is its dynamic, linguistic heritage.


(1) Louis Frolla, Grammaire Monégasque , Monaco: Comité national des traditions monégasques, 1998, p. x


How to get there: Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ). Nice airport is a 7-minute helicopter flight from Monaco's heliport (Héliport de Monaco ). There are also bus links from the airport to Monaco. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services to Monaco from Downtown Nice. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Nice include easyJet, from London Luton Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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