The Nature of the Association of Vestments Symbols and Colours

Often times, people have come up with this notion that when symbols or images are to be used on a vestment, there are some sort of rules around which symbols can be used with which colours. It is understood of course that the symbol of the crucifixion, or Eucharistic symbols, transcend any colour designation because these vestments of for the Eucharistic sacrifice. However beyond this, it is frequently thought that one might only see an image of the dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit on a red vestment (for example) and so forth.

While it is true that there have come to develop some particular colour associations in this regard -- which do make a great deal of sense -- it is important to understand that while such associations are reasonable and understandable, they cannot be understood as absolutes.  To demonstrate the point, I thought today would review some different vestments that show symbolic images on them in combination with colours which you might find them surprised to be paired with.

My point in showing these is not to suggest they are models to be followed per se, but simply to provide some broader historical awareness and emphasize that accidental associations, while of merit in their own right, aren't strictly speaking absolutes. 

To begin with though, I'd thought I'd show a black vestment with a rather curious inclusion; a three stemmed lampada coming from the 19th century. 

Continuing on with black, here is a black chasuble that includes an image of a Eucharistic monstrance -- not necessarily the first association one would make with any colour other than white or gold generally, but here it is all the same. This particular example dates to the 18th century. 
Thinking imagery of the Holy Spirit is only for red vestments (or even white)? Think again. In this next black chasuble, coming from the 20th century, we see a depiction of just that. 
20th century

The same is also found in this example coming in green.  
Finally,  violet is a colour used within a penitential context of course, so we typically expect to see crosses, crucifixions, or possibly generic Christological monograms like the IHS, but here in this example we see grapes and birds and a Eucharistic chaliice. Of course Eucharistic themes are one of those fairly universal themes we might run into, yet all the same they are rather rare to see associated with colours like purple, red or black. 
Ultimately, to reiterate, these examples are not necessarily presenting us with the finest examples of liturgical art, but they are a reminder that these associations between particular symbols and colours are not as absolute as we perhaps sometimes think. 

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.