Purple Need Not Mean Plain - Examples of Ornamental Violet Vestments Down the Centuries

Violet is a liturgical colour associated with penitential seasons such as Advent and Lent -- and traditionally other times too such as Septuageimsa and the vigils of certain important feast days.  Because of this, there is an argument some will make to having violet vestments have a certain 'sobriety' in design, and while there is certainly an argument to made for such, it is by no means a defined requirement. The notion behind that argument is that ornamentation is somehow necessarily festal, and as such, the same individuals who might argue this about keeping violet vestments reasonably plain are likely to be the same people who would say that lace should not be used during these times.  Of course the real issue here is not that someone might opt for such an approach -- the more power to them I say -- the issue is with the "should not" which suggests an absolute; an absolute that does not in fact exist. 

In point of fact there are no such liturgical laws and much of this has to do with contemporary associations that are specifically rooted in particular cultures -- namely, English speaking one's.  As such, if there is an argument to be made, the best one would be a cultural one, though ti must be said that even here the argument is weak. First off, why is ornament contrary to penance and how far does one go with this? If an embroidery is 'too ornamental' then why should a gold galloon or orphrey be any less so? For that matter, what of brocades and damasks, never mind silk itself? On it could go.

The reality is that our tradition has defined the possibility of both expressions and today I wanted to share with our readers a few historical examples showing violet vestments that are highly ornamental in their character. The examples shown here date from the 1500's to 1800's. Many of them are 'prelatial' but of course, that is merely circumstantial as prelates were often the one's who might have the resources for such works of liturgical art. 

1500-1550 - This particular chasuble includes a beautiful "pomegranate / pigna" motif. A stunning Renaissance era fabric. The orphrey panel contains, if you look closely, an image of Christ as the Man of Sorrows. 

1770-1780 chasuble of Cardinal Mario Marefoschi

18th century chasuble of Cardinal Antonio Sersale

Chasuble of Cardinal Galeazzo Marescotti, ca. 1670'-1680

17th century




Circa 1600-1650 with the stemma of Pope Gregory XV. The textile here once again contains the pomegranate motif -- one of the most popular of this era. 

17th - 18th century

If, however, your violet tastes inclined toward something more simple, yet still noble and beautiful (and ornamental in its own way), then you might like this chasuble of Florentine manufacture. 

Or perhaps this from 18th century with a gorgeous, ornamental gold galloon and a beautiful morello fabric:

Purple needn't mean plain or boring.

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