BLTC Press Titles

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The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Essays on ceremonial

by Edward Godfrey Cuthbert Frederic Atchley



To write anything fresh about the history of liturgical colours is not so much our intention, as rather to put the results of other writers' investigations into this subject before the ordinary reader. Practically, the available material for the discussion of what colours were used and on what occasions, has been printed in the Transactions of St. Paul's Ecclesiological Society, in two papers, the one Dr. J. Wickham Legg's Notes on the History of the Liturgical Colours, published in 1882, and the other Mr. W. H. St. John Hope's On the English Liturgical Colours, published seven years later. Little has come to light since these papers were printed, but in 1890 Mr. A. G. Barnes published a paper criticizing the conclusions to which these writers had come.

In this present paper we will take the facts so carefully collected and digested by these authors, and see whither they will lead us, helped by a few others that have been brought forward since. As the great majority of extracts from inventories, etc., to which reference will be made are taken from Mr. Hope's paper, it will simplify matters if no footnote references are given to anything coming therefrom, but when taken from other sources they will be indicated in the ordinary way.

Nor is the present method of analysing the material, which Dr. Legg and Mr. St. John Hope have so carefully gathered together, anything but an extension of that adopted by Mr. Barnes in his pamphlet mentioned above.

The history of liturgical colours cannot be properly written without treating the matter from the widest point of view, and including the Continent in our investigations. But it is possible to shew, without so elaborate and vast an undertaking, the local developments in any given place, although we may thereby miss the significance of many points ; and this is what is attempted in the following pages.

The use of coloured vestments is contemporaneous

with the use of any special vestments at all. Dr. Legg

shews how the chasuble is but the offspring of the

paenula consularis, just as the Greek vestments are

/ / but a reproduction of the dress of the Emperors. The

I ; old stola became the surplice or alb. The old Roman

symbolical colours were white, a sign of festivity;

fuscus, a dark colour, a sign of mourning; purpureus

and gold, signs of dignity.

At first there does not appear to have been a very clearly defined system for the use of the different coloured vestments, beyond the use of white for Easter in Gaul; dark vestments for Lent and Good Friday; solemn ones for Maundy Thursday; and the most solemn for Easterday. But as time went on, various schemes began to shape themselves for apportioning vestments of one colour to one day or season, of another to another, and so on.

Dr. Wickham Legg quotes Honorius of Autun

(c. 1130), Gemma Animae, lib. i. cap. 162, in which

Martyrs are compared to roses, Virgins to lilies ^

those who despise the world to violets, and the wise

,, to green herbs. He suggests that it may be an early

'] allusion to the liturgical colours for the different degrees

/! of Saints. But it may also be that the passage is only

an echo of St. Austin's third sermon on St. Laurence:

Habet, habet, Fratres, habet Hortus ille Dominicus, non

solum rosas martyrum, sed et lilia virginum, et coniugatorum hederas, violasque viduarum.1 It is not unlikely, however, that this imagery may have given rise to the use of those colours on those particular occasions.

The earliest liturgical colour-sequence that has come down to us is that which was in use in the Latin church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. This church was served by Black Canons, followers of the so-called Rule of St. Austin; and the scheme for the distribution of the colours dates from the twelfth century, sometime between nooand 1187. In the last quarter of the same century we have the sequence recorded by Innocent III, written however before he was made pope.

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