The legend of Saint Dominic’s orange tree


Santa Sabina Basilica, on the Aventine Hill, dates from the 5th century, and it is one of the oldest churches in Rome, although it has frequently undergone major conversions since it was built. In the atrium, by virtue of a small oval window opening into the courtyard of a neighbouring convent, an orange tree can be glimpsed growing in the very spot where, according to Dominican traditions, Saint Dominic planted it around 1220.

A number of anecdotes concerning this orange tree, more or less apocryphal, have endured down the ages. One notable claim is that Saint Dominic brought it back from Spain and planted it in the north-west corner of the former four-arched portico (no longer standing) where he liked to sleep. Until then, oranges had never been known to grow in Italy.

For centuries, this tree was described as miraculous, a new plant perennially springing from the dessicated trunk. Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) mentioned it in a letter to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, in which he demonstrated how the tree had become a focus of the cult of Saint Dominic.

Its oranges are said to have been used to make garlands and mementoes for popes and cardinals, and the story goes that the preserved oranges that Catherine of Siena offered to Urban VI in 1379 came from this tree.

In 1936, the ground was levelled where the tree grew and during the work, a coin dating from the 14th century was found among its roots.

An interesting story and place to visit don’t you think…….


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