Liturgical Colors in the Sarum Rite

There are many who say that blue is the Sarum color for Advent. This is completely incorrect. Advent Blue is an invention of CM Almy vestment makers in order to sell more vestments.

The oldest English liturgical color sequence is that of Lichfield, c. A.D. 1240 from the statutes of Bishop Pateshull:

Advent and Lent, black
Passiontide, red
Christmas, most precious vestments
St John, Circumcision, BVM, Virgins, St Michael, white
Epiphany, Apostles, Martyrs, St John Baptist, varied colours
St Mary Magdalene, Epiphany till Lent and Pentecost till Advent, according to the will of the sacristan

There also is this instruction appended: “All things must be modified accordin to the means of the church.”

Below is a description of the Sarum color cycle from Percy Dearmer’s The Parson’s Handbook:

Every Sunday of the Year except in Lent
Passion & Palm Sundays
Good Friday

Only the Blessed Virgin (and NOT for saints who weren’t martyrs)

St Michael

Yellow & Green:

Advent and Lent (at a later date)

Incidentally, blue and violet were consider as pertaining to black days and were used in Requeims and eventually Lent and Advent. Blue copes can be seen in depictions of Requiems.

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  • Blue was also seen, if I recall correctly, in feasts of saints of the Old Law, and widows. And sometimes around Trinity Sunday, right?

    Incidentally, some of the color sequences for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in jerusalem are almost all black. it’s kind of funny.

  • Un Sèminariste

    So in the manuscript you have posted, is the priest wearing blue, or is that violet? I’m guessing the manuscript is depicting a miraculous Mass of St. Gregory?

  • Kenneth

    Interesting stuff!

  • Michael

    I have to say, your article is completely self-contradictory.  You state first, “There are many who say that blue is the Sarum color for Advent.  This is completely incorrect.”  Then, at the end of your article, you write, “Black: Requiems, Advent and Lent (at a later date).  Incidentally, blue and violet were considered as pertaining to black days and were used in Requiems and eventually Lent and Advent.”

    Well, which one is it?  Was blue used for Advent or not?  Maybe you’re trying to say that blue wasn’t part of the most ancient tradition.  But isn’t it still “Sarum Use”, even if it comes from a later period in Sarum’s history?  Maybe you’re saying that blue is only one option among many for Advent and other seasons, and therefore blue is not uniquely appropriate for Advent.  Regardless, your point is not clear.

    My own impression of Sarum Use is that red was used on all Sundays of the year (including Lent and Advent), but not on the Sundays of Eastertide and Christmastide, when white was used.  Red or white was also specified for many feasts.  Yellow (or perhaps green) was used for feasts of confessors and possibly for other feasts. 

    Other colors, including blue, but also green and black, were used for most ferias, and some patterns can be surmised, such as purple or blue for ferias of Advent.  White was specified for ferias in Quadragesima, Eastertide, and Christmastide.   

    The problem is that the Sarum sources themselves lack a lot of details, so “impressions” and “reasonble conclusions” stand in for evidence. 

  • Michael

    I would add that what seems to be a striking feature of Sarum and some other medieval uses is the strong distinction between the colors used on ferias and the colors used on Sundays and feasts.  This is not something familiar now in the West, where one color tends to be used throughout a whole liturgical season, unless a feast takes precedence. 

    The practice is, however, reminiscent of Orthodox use, where especially in Lent, the ferias are very distinct from the services on Sunday.  Sunday is always a feast of the resurrection, and although Lenten Sundays require somber vestments and a somewhat different liturgy, they are distinctly more festive that the penitential weekdays.  As more than one Orthodox priest has said, in order to participate in Lent, you have to come to the weekday services.

    It is perhaps hard to imagine using plain linen vestments for ferias of Lent, and then switching to red for Sunday; or using purple or blue vestments for ferias of Advent, and then switching to red.  But that is one possible interpretation of what we know about Sarum. 

    Whether these color changes affected anything other than the priests’ vestments is another question.  We can suppose that deacons and sub-deacons also used appropriate colors.  But I am not familiar with any primary source that discusses frontals and other ornamental pieces, other than the veiling used in Quadragesima.

  • Michael

    Sorry about the mess in the first part of the prior post.  I wrote in Word and then pasted it in.  I guess that was a mistake.