Passiflora, a passion flower [Lat. flos passionis], is an amazing example of beauty of nature created through Divine Intervention. The flower was first discovered in the New World in the 17th century and was presented to the Old World by Jesuit missionary priests. Its unique anatomy, not found on any other flower, symbolically represents the events our Lord and God Jesus Christ went through in His last two days of His earthly life – Passions.
A piece of exquisite yet passing beauty, it comes from a bell-shaped bud to open and live for only one day and then succumb to its fading death in the same bell-shaped form. The tropical vine it grows on is lavished with multiple flowers and draws one’s attention immediately by the flower’s perfect shape and hidden mystery. The colors vary from deep purple (the color of Orthodox priests’ vestments during the Great Lent) to scarlet red, yet the numerical constituents remain the same: 10 petals (5 petals and 5 sepals identical in shape and color), 1 column, 72 corona filaments, 5 anthers, 3 stigmas.
Let’s decipher the numbers above according to Biblical story of Passions:
10 – Biblical account of Christ’s suffering tells us about St. Peter who distanced himself from Christ during His last hours, neither was Judas; whereas, 10 is the number of remaining Disciples of Christ at the time of crucifixion;
1 – Column of flagellation;
72 – Traditional number of thorns on a crown of thorns set upon Christ’s head;
5 – Total number of wounds inflicted to Christ at time of crucifixion;
3 – Nails.
Additionally, the vine’s leaves are shaped like a spear used to pierce Christ’s side. Some even find representation to Judas’ 30 pieces of silver (dark round spots on the underside of some species). Ominous may it seem to some or not, this flower graciously and quietly speaks of the most inspiring, life-changing and soul-bending story ever told to mankin
The Passion Flower Legend
The story relates that in 1609 Jacomo Bosio, a monastic scholar, was working on his extensive treatise on the Cross of Calvary, when an Augustan friar, Emmanuel de Villegas, a Mexican by birth, arrived in Rome.
He showed Jacomo Bosio drawings of a wonderful flower, ‘stupendously marvellous’, but Bosio was unsure whether or not to include these drawings in his book to the glory of Christ, fearing that they were greatly exaggerated. However, after receiving more drawings and descriptions from priests in New Spain and assurances from Mexican Jesuits passing through Rome that these astonishing reports of this lovely flower were indeed true, and when finally he saw drawings, essays and poems published by the Dominicans at Bologna he was satisfied that this marvellous flower did exist.
He now considered it his duty to present this ‘Flos Passionis’ flower story to the world as the most wondrous example of the ‘Croce triofante’ discovered in the forest. He considered the flower to represent not directly the cross of our Lord but more the past mysteries of the Passion.
In Peru, New Spain and the West Indies the Spanish descendants still call it the ‘Flower of the Five Wounds’. Bosio observed that the bell shaped flower took a long time to form, then after staying open for just one day, it closed back into the same bell shape as it slowly faded away. He wrote, ‘It may well be that in HIS infinite wisdom it pleases HIM to create it thus, shut up and protected, as though to indicate that the wonderful mysteries of the cross and of HIS passion were to remain hidden from the heathen people of these countries until the time preordained by HIS highest Majesty’.
Bosio’s passion flower shows the crown of thorns (corona filaments) twisted and plaited, the three nails (stigma) and the column of the flagellation just as they appear on ecclesiastical banners. He writes that the insides of the petals are tawny in Peru, but in New Spain they are white tinged with rose-pink, the crown of thorns having a blood red fringe, suggesting the ‘Scourge with which our blessed LORD was tormented’. He describes ‘the column [androgynophore] rising in the centre of the flower surrounded by the thorn of crowns, the three nails at the top of the column. In between, near the base of the column is a yellow colour about the size of a reale, in which there are five spots or stains [stamens] of the hue of blood evidently setting forth five wounds received by our LORD on the cross’.
The colour of the column, crown [ovary] and the nails is clear green and the crown is surrounded by a kind of veil of very fine violet coloured hair. There are seventy two filaments (crona filaments) which, according to tradition, is the number of thorns in the crown of thorns set upon Christ’s head. ‘The abundant and beautiful leaves are shaped like the head of a lance or pike like the spear that pierced the side of our Saviour, while the underside of the leaf is marked with dark round spots signifying thirty pieces of silver’, that Judas was paid to betray Christ.