A climbing vine, the Passionflower is renowned for its colorful blooms in shades of pink, purple, or blue. The exotic perennial has the Jesuits and the Passion of Christ to thank for its name.
In the 16th century, early Portuguese and Spanish Jesuit missionaries came to the Americas. Exploring the tropical rain forests of South America, they were charmed by the exotic flower and its fragrant aromas, but also the elements of Christ’s Calvary they saw symbolized.
The Jesuits gave it the name Flos Passionis, “Passion Flower” or Flor de las Cinco Llagas, “Flower of the Five Wounds.” They brought it back with them to Spain, where it would later find its way to Europe and other parts of the world.
How does the Passionflower symbolize the Passion of Christ you ask?
• The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the Holy Lance.
• The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.
• The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles
• The flower’s radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.
• The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail.
• The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance).
• The blue and white colors of many species’ flowers represent Heaven and Purity.
• The flower keeps open three days, symbolizing the three years’ ministry
Since its introduction to Europe, the Passionflower has been known by many names, all with Christiological symbolism. In Spain, it is known as espina de Cristo, “thorn of Christ.” Older Germanic names include Christus-Krone, “Christ’s crown,” Christus-Strauss, “Christ’s bouquet,” and Dorn-Krone, “crown of thorns.”
The first drawing of the exotic plant was sketched by Dominican monk Simone Parlasca in 1609, showing the symbolic elements the missionaries saw in the Passionflower. A year later in 1610, Eugenio Petrelli made the symbolism even more distinct in a front piece for a book by Antonia Possevino.