L’Olivo di Sant'Emiliano: A 1,800-Year-Old Symbol of Umbria's Olive Tradition

The millenary tree symbolizes the resilience of the central Italian region, with many of its cohorts damaged by repeated frost over the years.
L’Olivo di Sant'Emiliano (Photo: Trevi’s culture and tourism administration)
By Daniel Dawson
May. 28, 2024 12:09 UTC

Umbria’s old­est mil­lenary olive tree is sit­u­ated in the ham­let of Bovara di Trevi, an ancient town on the famous Olive Path con­nect­ing Spoleto with Assisi, less than an hour south of the regional cap­i­tal of Perugia.

L’Olivo di SantEmiliano is over 1,800 years old and con­tin­ues to thrive a few hun­dred meters from the 12th-cen­tury Benedictine Abbey of Bovara.

It is impor­tant to pre­serve thou­sand-year-old olive trees because they are a direct source of the longevity and per­sis­tence of agri­cul­tural cul­ture and local tra­di­tions.- Daniela Rapastella, Trevi cul­ture and tourism admin­is­tra­tion

La Passió says that Bishop Miliano, after suf­fer­ing var­i­ous tor­tures, was tied to a young olive tree and beheaded in the year 304,” Daniela Rapastella, the head of Trevi’s cul­ture and tourism admin­is­tra­tion, told Olive Oil Times.

Miliano came to Italy from Armenia. His name was Italianzed to Emiliano when Pope Marcellinus con­se­crated him. After his exe­cu­tion, he became the patron saint of Trevi.

See Also:Unveiling the Mystery and Magic Surrounding Tuscany’s Olivo della Strega

For the local com­mu­nity, L’Olivo di Sant’Emiliano is a sym­bol of strong devo­tion because it is linked to the city’s patron saint,” Rapastella said.

Indeed, the mil­lenary tree has recently been reg­is­tered as a pro­tected tree and fenced off so tourists can admire it with­out dam­ag­ing it.

Historical facts and pop­u­lar beliefs state that the olive tree has sur­vived sev­eral frosts over the cen­turies, always bear­ing abun­dant fruit,” she added. It also resisted the most intense frosts, which instead caused the dry­ing out of almost all the other olive trees, some of which were more than cen­turies old.”

According to Rapastella, locals con­tinue to har­vest olives from the tree and mill them into unique olive oil due to the olive tree’s ancient genet­ics.

The Sant’Emiliano olive tree, accord­ing to the scholar Guido Bonci, is genet­i­cally placed in a tran­si­tion posi­tion between the Olivastro and Moraiolo cul­ti­vars,” she said.

Moraiolo is the dom­i­nant olive vari­ety in the region, mak­ing up more than 60 per­cent of any extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duced under the Umbria Colli Assisi-Spoleto Protected Designation of Origin cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

While there is grow­ing debate about the accu­racy of cer­tain dat­ing meth­ods for ancient olive trees, Rapastella is con­fi­dent that author­i­ties fol­lowed the best sci­en­tific processes to obtain an accu­rate age.

She said researchers took sam­ples from the root sys­tem to iden­tify the old­est part of the tree. The old­est por­tions of the truck have long been dam­aged by par­a­sites and removed via the slu­patura, or strip­ping, prun­ing tech­nique, elim­i­nat­ing decay­ing parts of a healthy tree.

However, I can­not exclude that even older mate­r­ial may be found in another part of the roots,” she said.

Leading experts in the field radio­car­bon-dated the root core sam­ples, deter­min­ing that the tree was about 1,830 years old with a mar­gin of error of 260 years. This puts the date of its ger­mi­na­tion between 96 BCE and 425 CE.

This age is extra­or­di­nar­ily inter­est­ing because until now, it was believed that the max­i­mum age of olive trees at this lat­i­tude could not exceed 1,500 years,” Rapastella said.

It is impor­tant to pre­serve thou­sand-year-old olive trees because they are a direct source of the longevity and per­sis­tence of agri­cul­tural cul­ture and local tra­di­tions,” she added.


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