Varieties of Violacea Found in the Sixteenth Century

With advent now upon us, it seemed like a good time to pick up on our "varieties of violacea" series, this time focusing on the 16th century.  As we have noted in previous articles, the liturgical colour purple has seen various variations throughout its history. Some scholars speak to it as originally coming from black as a liturgical colour, while at other times in history we have seen manifestations which are more dark blue. These darker blue vestments are sometimes mistaken for being Marian or at very least purposefully blue in their liturgical intent (such as the blue vestments seen throughout colonial Spain and other related locations); in point of fact these darker blues were frequently just utilized as acceptable variations on the colour purple, coming from a time when dyes were not as standardized and one had to utilize what was available. Indeed, it should be recalled that purple can having a reddish end to its spectrum (i.e. Roman purple) or a more bluish-blackish end, sometimes referred to as "morello."

To help demonstrate these varieties we turn our focus toward the sixteenth century. Some of these range toward the blacker end of the violet spectrum, others more toward a blue, and in between are various other shades that we would recognize as violet/purple. Let's begin with the more classically "violet" by our modern understanding.



Each of the three examples above will be fairly familiar in their colouring to our modern eyes, but this next detail, taken from a chasuble, will show one of the more bluish ends of the violet spectrum tha tcould be found during this period of history:

Here too is another which is similarly a quite blue form of purple:

The next three examples come from the blacker or morello end of the spectrum:


As one is considering these examples, one must imagine the context of the period from which they come. Textiles were limited and precious commodities; dyes were natural and thus their colourings could vary widely and were by no means standardized. It was not as today where commercially produced textiles are readily available in a wide variety of colours that are ready for purchase. One used what one had available and, as such, the range of acceptable variations within a particular liturgical colour group was quite a bit more broad than our contemporary understanding. 

This point can be important for our own time as frequently there is a notion that there are only one or two acceptable shades for a given liturgical colour. The reality is otherwise. 

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.