I am feeling blue, Sarum Blue that is.
Prior to A.D. 313 when Constantine was recognized as Emperor, Christianity was an illegal religion. Misunderstood and persecuted, Christians worshipped in secret and suffered in public. When Constantine ascended to the throne, he proclaimed Christianity the preferred religion (as he had become a Christian) and made the persecution of Christians illegal. Additionally, he helped spread the religion by bankrolling church-building projects, commissioning new copies of the Bible, and gathering theologians from all over the world to record the faith’s doctrinal proclamations. Until 313, there was no universal date or even the formal celebration of Christmas. Notable Church Fathers such as Origen (d.255), St. Irenaeus (d. 202), and Tertullian (d. 220) do not include Christmas or its date on their lists of feasts and celebrations.
After Constantine’s proclamation the church began to recognize existing practices and establish dates and celebrations for important events of the faith. During this time, the church fixed the date of Jesus birth as December 25th based on the supposed event of the Annunciation nine months earlier on March 25th. In A.D. 354 a record was found of church Bishops in which was written: "25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae"—December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea. Subsequently, this is recorded as the first celebration of Christmas, December 25, 336.
Once December 25 became Christmas, the period prior to the celebration evolved in significance as a time of preparation. Advent means “coming or arrival,” and the reason for the season is anticipation and preparation for the birth of the Christ child and His second coming. In these years of the early church, Advent was also a season for candidates to prepare for church membership through Baptism.
As the seasons of the church were further solidified, purple was the logical color for Lent based on two points: first, during His passion, Jesus was dressed in a purple robe. This robe (presumably) belonged to Herod, as the purple color represented royalty and royal authority. Second, Jesus was proclaimed (mockingly) as the King of the Jews, an ironic proclamation as Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The Lenten purple is a blood purple or maroon purple.
Advent also used purple laced with blue to represent the Birth of the New King. By the eighth century, the Mozarabic church in the east was using “sarum blue” as the color of Advent as were members of the western church by the eleventh century.
The Sarum Rite (liturgical rite of the established church prior to the Reformation) was the original basis for the liturgy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and where Sarum Blue was used for the color of Advent. Early art shows church leaders in ornately decorated blue robes. Shades of blue symbolize royalty, the coming of the King, hope, the night sky before dawn, the sea before creation, and Mary. Remember early dyes were made from nature. Some historians suggest that northern European dyes were made from berries that produced blue while southern Europe was able to make purple dyes.
Tradition puts the rose-colored candle in the Advent wreath—not to symbolize Mary, but to reflect the lessening emphasis on penitence, the nearing of the end of the fast, the pending birth, and the second coming. Rose or pink represents joy. The 3rd Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin for “rejoice,” takes its name from one of the traditional readings from Philippians which begins, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
At Creator we are blessed to have Sarum Blue as our Advent color. All our Advent paraments were given to the Glory of God in thanksgiving for the earthly life and in loving memory of Shirley Hardy.
Father Bill Burk†