9 December 2016

Blue vestments

If Spain is entitled to blue vestments on December 8 because of its role in promoting the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, I would have thought that a fortiori England would be even more entitled.

The use of blue among Anglicans for Advent is part of the old (Percy 'dishonest plagiariser' Dearmer) idea that you show you are are a loyal Anglican and not a beastly Romaniser by discovering details in medieval English usage which diverge from modern Roman custom, and then proudly parading them. An example of such Dearmerism, so I have been told, survives at Exeter Cathedral, where they use blue in Advent. If true, this is all the more daft because, whatever they did elsewhere in England, at Exeter Bishop Grandisson's Ordinale (14th century) clearly required violet (the dear Burgundian old boy very naturally preferred to operate iuxta morem curie Romane). Incidentally, in case any of you were wondering, its Latinity does carefully distinguish between violet and blue.

It allows, however, although optionally (non inconvenienter indui possent), the use of blue on double feasts in Advent and Lent. Since the Conception was a festum duplex, we have here "English" precedent for using blue on December 8.

Rumour has it that the use of light blue for feasts of the Theotokos is common in the Russian and other 'Slavic' Churches. Is this by Western influence? I find it a little unexpected in as far as in Byzantine iconography our Lady is normatively clad in red.

19 comments:

Marco da Vinha said...

The use of blue vestments on the feast of the IC was formerly only allowed in one place in Portugal - in the chapel of the University of Coimbra. When Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed patron saint of the realm in the 17th century by King John IV, all students were obliged to take an oath to defend the IC before taking a degree. It is worth noting, however, that Our Lady has been the Patron of the realm since the foundation; so King John IV was only a solemnization of what was already a reality. I believe it was this king who gave the crown up to Our Lady, after which no regent ever bore it.

Claudio Salvucci said...

May I ask The Impertinent Question?

What is the compelling reason to have liturgical colors so tightly controlled that one has to apply to Roman dicastery for such an outrage against the Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith as blue vestments?

Is this level of centralization a recent outgrowth of ultramontanism? Didn't the colors vary widely in the Middle Ages? I recall one diocese had red through all the Sundays after Pentecost. Paris's scheme (medieval? neogallican?) did a fair impression of a box of Crayolas: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite_gallican#Couleurs_liturgiques_en_rite_parisien

Claudio Salvucci said...

Incidentally, Paris's liturgical light blue was used:

"Aux fêtes de saint Joachim et sainte Anne, de saint Louis roi de France, des abbés, moines et justes, des saintes femmes."

And perhaps strangest of all:

"Si l'on ne possède pas d'ornements bleus, on emploie la couleur violette."

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

It was always the general understanding when I was at School there, that at Westminster Abbey, due to its founder Edward the Confessor's deep devotion to Our Lady, a privilege had been granted to him by the Holy See to the Abbey to use blue for Marian feasts. One has quoted it often, but without any written authority. Perhaps someone with more time for such research than I might comment?

The Saint Bede Studio said...

Latinity may distinguish between violet and blue, but until the twentieth century, the shade of violet used by the Church was never the dark one commonly seen today but a much lighter shade, which can often be mistaken for blue. Paintings of bishops and other prelates before the twentieth century frequently shew their choir dress as this distinctive shade of lighter violet.

http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/the-colours-of-advent-annual-post.html

Bert Louth said...

Dearydearymeerism.

CE User said...

I do not have a source, but I have read in some discussions that "liturgical colors" in Orthodoxy are not strictly regulated as they are in the Latin church. I have heard it described as more of a distinction between "dark" and "light" than actual prescribed colors for specific seasons.

Gregory DiPippo said...

Βέλτιστε Πάτερ,

The Slavs do indeed generally use blue on Marian feasts. They have also been the leaders in developing a rather complex color scheme out of the older Byzantine tradition that bright vestments are used on Sundays and feasts, and dark ones on fasts, without regard to color. This is usually described as something that emerged in imitation of the Latin custom, but the scheme of the colors is often quite different. Green, for example, is used on Palm Sunday and Pentecost, and one would never use violet or any dark color color on a Sunday in Lent.

Hierodeacon said...

Yes, blue is the common color in Russian usage for feasts of the Mother of God. Yes, this, and the entire idea of set colors for certain themes and liturgical seasons, is a Western influence within Orthodoxy, which helps explain why there is so much variety of practice not only within Orthodoxy as a whole, but even just within, say, the Russian context. Older liturgical texts (such as the Typikon of St Sabas) refer only to bright or dark vestments or, in a few cases, to one's "best" vestments.

The modern Russian set-up includes the following seven colors:

Gold, for "ordinary time"
Bright red, for Paschaltide (though the older usage here, still found in most Russian immegré churches, is white), and feasts of the Cross and of martyrs.
White for [Paschaltide,] Ascension, Christmas, Theophany, Transfiguration, and often for weddings, funerals, and baptisms
Burgundy or purple for lesser fasts (such as Advent) and for Saturdays and Sundays in Lent
Black for weekdays in Lent and Holy Week
Blue for feasts of the Mother of God
Green for Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and feasts of monastic saints

But as I said there is a lot of variation.

vetusta ecclesia said...


I understand that Downside has some privilege re. blue vestments. Perhaps a reader can confirm/dismiss/amplify.

Rose Marie said...

In my distant childhood here across the pond, we had light blue vestments for feasts and votive Masses of our Lady. That was before the Great Rupture. I have no idea what the general or local rubrics said. It seems that white is now used on such days.

Fr. Yousuf said...

In the Icons her outer cloak is red and her inner cloak is blue - because in her pregnancy the earth covered the heavens and her womb was more spacious than the heavens. The Vestment color scheme is not connected with this iconography.

Blue vestments for the Theotokos are well known in non-slavic Orthodox churches as well - see this color scheme from an Antiochian site in America: http://www.dowama.org/sites/docs/TNLitColor.pdf. If the English can claim blue then so too can the Byzantine rite from whence they got the feast. I wore blue for December 9, even though the propers have this at least as much as a feast of St Anna (same prokeimenon, Epistle, Alleluia, & Gospel as Sep 9 and July 25.

Matthew said...

I can confirm that Downside used blue on Marian feasts in the early 1960s; they may well still do so. And that in the East red is the popular colour at Pascha -- for eggs as well as for vestments.

Little Black Sambo said...

In the part of Yorkshire where I used to live several of the churches used vestments of a handsome brown colour for Sundays after Epiphany and after Trinity. I was told this was the Ancient Use of Ebor.

John Nolan said...

In 2008 the Association for Latin Liturgy and the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge were invited to celebrate Solemn Mass in the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral and Solemn Vespers in the choir, on the feast of the Visitation. The celebrant was Dom Aidan Bellenger, Abbot of Downside.

The vestments were blue. I believe the Cathedral supplied the copes, and the Abbey the chasuble and dalmatics.

Matthew said...

In your time, LBS, or pre-Reformation?

Little Black Sambo said...

I lived there in post-Reformation times; the vestments were fairly modern - late 19th century onwards, I should say.

Matthew said...

Most interesting, LBS. The nearest thing I ever saw to brown vestments was a High Mass set made in the late 1950s from fabric hand woven by a former habitué of the Ditchling Guild. Officially it was classed as white,but the combination of cream background and plain milk-chocolate orphreys (if that's not a contradiction in terms!) made it the nearest thing in cloth to the GWR railway coaches still extant in that era.

Gil Garza said...

Our modern sense of blue and purple have shifted. The word violet has come to mean purple in the last 75 years. The English rhyme, "roses are red, violets are blue," is but one example of this shift. 200 years ago the word blue would be indicated by the color cyan, today. The word indigo as used by Sir Isaac Newton would be identified as purple by people today.

As a result of this shift in our vocabulary for the lower end of the visible light color spectrum in the modern age, could it be that the colors used in vestments have shifted as well? Could it be that when the Instruction says violet, the traditional color for this would be identified as blue today?