Color symbolism is ripe in the world, in everything from art to fashion to architecture. It should come an as little surprise to you, then, that there is a history of color symbolism in church vestments as well. To those that are familiar with the origins of some of these vestments, it won’t come as a surprise, but for others, it might be a bit of a shock.
It isn’t all about the import of a color insomuch as it produces an effect on the viewer. A lot of the colors that are present in church garments really have their roots in the historical symbolism of color. Check out some of these colors and what they represent.
It is very common to see vestments in the color black. Cassocks and robes, for example, are often black and there are a few reasons for this. Despite what you might think, it goes far beyond the simple use of these colors at times of mourning, such as at funerals.
Specifically, many vestments are colored black because black is seen as an austere color, which is also the reason that some reserve black for mourning. Black, as the color of austerity, serves as a reminder that priests have secular as well as holy duties.
Therefore black is a reminder of the somber duties of clergymen, that they are a part of the Earth as separated from the purity of God’s Kingdom, and they should front that presentation.
Although white is a color of mourning in many cultures, in the Western church white symbolizes the purity of divine love and the promise of redemption. That is why so many garments, such as surplices and albs, are colored white, although it is not uncommon to find robes that are chiefly white as well.
White, unlike black which is a reminder of austerity, is a symbol of hope and purity. It is a reminder of the purity of the divine love that offers the hope of salvation.
Blue and Purple
The ancient Phoenicians wore purple because it was expensive to produce, and that tradition has cultivated an impression of “royal purple” in the minds of contemporary thinkers. It is a stigma that the color has not been able to escape. Blue, on the same note, is another color associated with wealth and royalty. Blue and purple, then, represents the kingliness of the Messiah.
Red is the color of fire but also, and most importantly, the color of blood. As wine is offered in the Eucharist as a representation of the Savior’s blood, so does the color red symbolize how the savior’s blood was offered in exchange for our salvation. For this reason, red robes and vestments are not uncommon.
Gold, like purple and blue, is a Kingly color and a royal one. It is often used in church vestments because it catches the eye, but it also offers an undeniable link to richness and glory. It is a reminder of the waiting promise of salvation.
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