Why is it called passion fruit? You’d think it was named for the aphrodisiacal qualities of the fruit that originated in Brazil. But no! Devout Christian clerics gave it the passion fruit name after seeing symbols of Christ’s passion in the plant’s stunning parts.
Why It is Called Passion Fruit
To understand why it is called passion fruit, we have to go back a few years—to April 26, 1500, when a Portuguese priest celebrated the first Mass in Brazil. (Easter would have landed on April 1 that year, BTW.) By 1549, the Portuguese king was dispatching the first Jesuit mission to Brazil. The monarchy tasked the Jesuit priests with educating, evangelizing and colonizing the area.
The Jesuits were a relatively new order at the time, established by Spaniard Ignatius of Loyola. I would think that by this time, the indigenous people had already introduced the Europeans to the gorgeous flower and fruit. Experts believe that the fruit was part of the native diet. Unfortunately, the name for passion fruit used by the indigenous people is not recorded. However, we’ll discuss another name for passion fruit and different passion fruit names later.
The first time that drawings of the passion fruit appear in Europe are in 1609 and then 1610. Since I prefer the 1610 sketch by Eugenio Petrelli that appears in a book by Jesuit Antonio Possevino, I’ll include it below. I think it illustrates well the parts of the passionfruit flower that priests saw as symbols of Christ’s Passion. But first, for those who don’t know, what is the Passion of Christ?
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The Passion of Christ
The Passion of Christ refers to the time of suffering endured by Jesus in the final days before death. Christ’s captors tied him to a pillar or column and scourged (whipped) him. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.” John 19:1 (NIV)
Other wounds that he received included lesions from a crown of thorns pressed on his head. “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.” John 19: 2 (NIV)
Five Sacred Wounds
The Five Sacred Wounds referred to Christ’s wounds when Roman soldiers nailed him to the cross and the subsequent lancing. Historians say that the Romans probably used three nails, one in each wrist and one that pierced his two overlapped feet. After Jesus died on the cross, a soldier pierced his side with a lance. That makes five wounds, four by the nails and one by the spear. “When they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” John 33-34 (NIV)
Communicating the Detailed Passion Story
Brazil’s missionaries of the late 1500s needed to tell these stories of Christ’s death and resurrection to the indigenous people who could not read European languages. So the fathers used things found in the Amazon Basin’s abundant nature to tell gospel stories. One of the familiar natural things they used was the plant they named flor de las cinco lagas or ‘flower of the five wounds.’ The name was later translated into English as ‘passion fruit’ or ‘five wounds passion fruit.’
They would have been very familiar with the five wounds of Christ since feasts in honor of the Wounds of Christ had spread to different parts of Europe by the fifteenth century, and calendars they brought to Brazil would have noted it. Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans and other orders included the feast in their liturgical books.
Passionfruit Flowers and Plant: Symbols of Christ’s Last Days
Compare the two illustrations of plants above to best understand the symbols used by the fathers.
3 Stigmas, Three Nails at the Cross
- The three stigmas represent the three spikes that held Christ’s body on the cross. If you look closely, each stigma has a rounded dome, like the head of a nail. “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they nailed him on the cross.” Mark 15:25 (WE)
- The pointed tips of the passionfruit leaves symbolize the spear that pierced Christ’s side.
Tendrils Denote Whips of the Scourging
- The climbing plant’s tendrils denote the whips used in the scourging of Christ.
The Flower’s Style looks like the Whipping Post
- The central column of the flower, called a style, symbolizes the pillar where soldiers scourged Jesus.
- The coronal filaments depict the crown of thorns. (I think that after a year of coronavirus, we all know that corona means ‘crown.’)
10 Pedals and Sepals
- Below the filaments, five petals and five sepals symbolize the ten faithful disciples, not including Peter, the denier and Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.
- The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents the hammer that pounded the nails or the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper.
5 Spectacular Anthers are 5 Sacred Wounds
- The five anthers embody the “Five Sacred Wounds” of the five wounds passion fruit.
Another Name for Passion Fruit | Passion Fruit Names
There are many names for passion fruit, so if you are looking for another name for passion fruit, you will find it here:
|Country||Passion Fruit Names||Meaning in English|
|South America||Flor de las cinco lagas||Flower of the Five Wounds|
|Granadilla||five wounds passion fruit|
|Spain||Espina de Cristo||Christ’s thorn|
|Dorn-Krone||Crown of thorns|
|France||Fruit de la passion||Passionfruit|
|Brazil||Flor de maracuja||Passion flower|
What does passion fruit taste like? Perfumed pungent, tart? Click here to find out.
Read more about why I’m passionate about Passion fruit here.
As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with passion fruit from Melissa’s Produce for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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2 thoughts on “Why is it called Passion Fruit? | Passion Fruit Names”
Love this, Stacey! Thank you. I had no idea. I love that the structure of the plant was used to teach.
Thanks so much for commenting, Linnea! Now you know why I am passionate about passion fruit!