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The Passion Flower

Passion flower

The Passion Flower

The stunning beauty of The Passion Flower or Passiflora is magnificent. But this amazing flower does not stop with putting on a beautiful floral show.  People the world over recognize this beautiful show piece of nature as the symbol of Christ’s Passion and Cross. The many different parts of this lovely flower were adapted to tell one of the greatest stories ever told. Parts of the flower symbolizes the crown of thorns, the three nail holes and the five wounds that Jesus was afflicted with. Especially during the 15th and 16th century, flowers were used to symbolize the making of amends to right a wrong.  Thus the beautiful Passion flower became a teaching tool in the hands of the Spanish Christian missionaries. This was the beginning of using flowers for reparation.

The Spanish missionaries used all the various parts of this special flower to tell the story of the passion of Jesus. Each part of the flower represented an event that took place during the last days of Jesus on earth. Most were used as symbols of the different events that led up to the crucifixion.

If you take a look at the leaves, they have a very fine and pointed leaf. This leaf came to represent the Holy Lance. The Holy Lance has gone by many different names through the last 2000 plus years of religious history. It is also referred to as the Holy Spear, the spear of Destiny, and the Lance of Longinus. Different denominations and different periods of history have contributed to the many names. By any name, according to the Gospel of John in the New Testament, it is the lance that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung dying on the cross. (John 19:34)  This lance is believed to have been found by the First Crusaders  on June 15th, 1098.

The tender and fragile climbing tendrils were used to represent the whips that were used in the flagellation of Jesus.  The Spanish Christian missionaries were more than a little creative as they used this beautiful flower to teach the story of the crucifixion.  Certainly using the tendrils was a very unique and inventive way to teach this Gospel story that the people could relate to.

The ten delicate petals and the sepals are symbolic of the apostles who were considered faithful. Interesting that St. Peter was left out as well as Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Passion Flower has radial filaments, which can number more than 100, that were used to represent the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus. It is interesting to note that the filaments can vary in number from flower to flower.

The ovary of the Passion Flower is somewhat shaped as a chalice-shaped cup. This was used to represent the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Furthermore, in medieval legend, it is believed that Joseph of Arimathea received Jesus’s blood at the cross in this cup. Some denominations have accepted this version through the years.

Each flower has three stigmata and five anthers below the stigmata. These are symbolic for the three nails and five wounds that he received as he lay hanging on the cross.

Many of the species have beautiful blue and white flowers. The color blue represents Heaven and white is the color of purity in most cultures, even today.  You will find that many religious groups today use these two colors predominantly as the color of their vestments.

Throughout the world this beautiful flower has been given many names that reflect this symbology. In the country of Spain, the Passion flower is known as the “Espina de Cristo.” This can be translated as Christ’s Thorn. The German’s have several names for this splendid flower. It is known in some parts of Germany as “Christus-Krone” or Christ’s crown. Some places refer to it as “Christus-Strauss” or Christ’s bouquet. “Dorn-Krone” or Crown of thorns, “Jesus-Leiden”or Jesus’ passion, ”  “Marter” or passion, and lastly “Muttergottes-Stern” or Mother of God’s star. These are all common names throughout Germany.

This magnificent flower, with its many names, is a vigorous climbing vine. It requires something sturdy for its tendrils to hang onto for support. It is a spectacular  plant that loves  full sun and water. The flowers are dramatic as they slowly open up. Rarely does a vine produce any fruit and when it does, it is extremely small and tasty. The Passion Flower loves to grow in tropical areas and in the United States has been known to grow as far North as the State of Ohio. It is a perennial in the tropics but is grown as an annual further North. In the North it is known to re-seed itself from year to year. It can usually be found in seed catalogs starting in the month of January.

Herbalists throughout the world grow this vine for its soothing properties. They often recommend it for treating nervous disorders and anxiety. It is used quite widely as a nerve tonic in some cultures. It never caught on in the Western world due to the many side effects that can present themselves. Certainly it should never be used without a doctor’s supervision, as it reacts with many other herbs, drugs, and teas. It is however widely used as the number one ingredient in many bath products for its soothing aroma and calming effects. It can be found in some teas in small amounts.

As you travel throughout the world, you will see many different varieties of the Passion Flower. The next time you gaze at this spectacular flower, imagine, if you can, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus.

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