Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Short History of the Pineapple in Architecture

By Gretchen Sawatzki

The history of embellishing architecture with pineapple ornamentation is largely unknown, but many have speculated the significance of the pineapple in European and American architecture. While some argue the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, others have linked the fruit as a symbol of Christianity.
Antique pineapple finial
Image by Hannah Manning via Materials Unlimited
Native to South America, the pineapple became known to Europeans with Columbus' arrival to the New World in 1493. He documented the fruit calling it, "piƱa de Indes" or "pine of the Indians." By the 16th century the fruit was being grown all over Europe and the European colonies. In 1657 Captain Richard Ligon travelled to the West Indies devoting three pages of his journal to the fruit, noting that the fruit was given as a gift among the natives and kings. By 1661, Europeans were including the pineapple in ceramics, dishware, linens, furniture, architecture, and more. The fruit's sweet flavor became a welcomed delicacy in Europe and colonial America often served as dessert at the end of fine dinner, which became considered as the "highest form of hospitality."

Pineapple finial atop a church belfry
Image by Walter Baxter [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The pineapple was also often associated with Christianity - as a single pineapple plant will give it's life for that of a single fruit, Christians believe their savior, Jesus Christ gave his life for that of the salvation of others. For this reason, it is believed that the pineapple was a symbol of the Christian faith and it may have been used to identify Christian homes or businesses.

While most people would associate the pineapple with Hawaii, the fruit actually did not make its way to the Hawaiian islands until the British brought it there in 1880s. The popularity of the fruit was further widespread with the formation of James Dole's Hawaiian Fruit Company in 1901.

Pineapple finials greet approaching guests with hospitality atop
the columns of an estate entrance gate.
Image by Trish Steel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Whether the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality or Christianity there is no denying it's obvious impact in European and American architecture. Today, you can still find pineapples on finials atop historic buildings, cast in stone pediments above doorways, and represented in carved architectural motifs.

             Dole Food Company
             The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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