A Brief Inquiry into Orange Shades in Vestments

Amidst the Autumn leaves, it seems a good time to look at how oranges were traditionally used in liturgical vestments.

Of course, orange has not really ever been a liturgical color per se in the Roman Rite. The closest I can find to an explicitly called-for use anywhere is in the neo-Gallican Parisian Missal of 1776. There vestments "couleur d'aurore" (fulva) are listed for the Sundays after Pentecost until Advent, as a substitute for red. Literally the color of dawn, "aurore" is classified today as a sort of yellow-orange (saffron). 

However, it is also true that a number of old chasubles have come down to us in an orange shade—or at least are classed as such in collections. As Shawn Tribe has pointed out many times on these pages, vestment colors were somewhat looser in the past than they are today, on account of the availability of natural dyes, the dying process itself, and color fastness. The "orange" chasubles are likely variations of rose (see examples of these here and here) or red or even gold. But even if so, they amply illustrate the point that Shawn repeatedly makes, and help to broaden our perspectives beyond the 8-color basic scheme we learn as children.

One naturally wonders how many of these "oranges" are merely lighting or photographic artifacts, but this seems to show a clear orange base flanking a rose center.

Manifattura italiana sec. XVII, Pianeta in damasco arancio a maglie ovali
Italy, 1600s.

While the above is example is construable as intending 'rose', this early 19th century Genovese example is particularly striking, with contrasting dark velvet ornamentation. The accompanying stole looks mostly red in the photo, but note that its ends are the same color as the chasuble.

One final note on the possibility of oranges in the Middle Ages. Innocent III (1198-1216) lists four main liturgical colors: white, red, green, and black. He then lists four supplementary colors derived from those main ones, including "ad nigrum violaceus" (from black, violet) and "ad viridem croceus" (from green, saffron). Color terms such as fulveus (tawny yellow?) and croceus (saffron yellow?) continue to be found in later liturgical manuals. What modern color we should associate these with is a complicated question, involving as it does not only historical linguistics but also textile history, dyeing chemistry and techniques, and even botany. Thus, we have to leave open the possibility of a more brownish or orangeish tint than basic yellow. Moreover, there seems to be some question whether luteus, also found in some manuals, means yellow or red or pink—or perhaps some mixture of them, like peach. As such, even though orange vestments are never explicitly called for, it is hard to rule out the possibility that, like the more modern examples above, some medieval vestments would have looked orange to our eyes.

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