A Fifteenth Century Solemn Mass Set Gifted by the Future Pope Julius II

Today I am pleased to share the following solemn Mass set dated to 1475-1499 which is found on a blue velvet with a gold brocaded pattern of grapes and grapevines. The set in question was donated by then Cardinal Guiliano della Rovere who would eventually go on to become Pope Julius II, one of the most powerful and influential popes in history -- being the same pope responsible for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, the presence of the Swiss Guard in the Vatican, as well as founding the Vatican Museums. 

The presence of blue in historical vestment work often raises questions (as well as eyebrows) in our time. The matter can further be muddied by the permissions that were granted by the S.R.C. in the later 19th century to places like Spain, Latin America, Cologne, Downside Abbey, etc. to use blue specifically for Marian feasts. Historically speaking, however, to equate blue specifically with Marian liturgical occasions would be an error. 

The question is not one I intend to address thoroughly today, but suffice it to say that our modern classifications and hard divisions for the liturgical colours are not exactly the same as in earlier times. For example, blues and blue-purples were sometimes found to be classed under the main colour family of black -- and if that seems odd I might point readers to the fact that, to this day, the Lenten ferias of the Ambrosian rite call for black vestments (though only as an option in the post-conciliar Ambrosian rite) being considered the strict colour of penance and fasting. With that in mind, I'd point out that what you are looking at here are not "blue Marian vestments" in way we tend to think of that today.

Let's begin with a look at the chasuble. The primary pieces of the set include a beautifully embroidered central galloon that show various images of the saints ensconced in architectural motifs. 

The cope for the set continues this theme on the front orphreys, while the hood or shield of the cope includes a beautifully rendered scene of the Adoration of the Magi. 

Detail of the cope showing the Adoration of the Magi

Perhaps this depiction of the Adoration of the Magi will make you second guess my statement from earlier about the non-Marian character of these vestments, but if you doubt that there was a penitential intent for this particular set, I would simply point you to the fact that it came, not with a dalmatic and tunicle, but rather with a matching set of folded chasubles:

The central orphreys of these utilize the same blue velvet textile that is found on the main body of the chasuble and cope. 

A fascinating set that points to some of the historical differences that can be identified simply by looking at the works of earlier centuries. 

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