Monday 30 December 2019

Concerning fabrics for vestments

Admirers of Church vestments would be surprised to learn that the majority of ecclesiastical fabrics are either entirely or largely comprised  of man-made yarns, or "synthetics".  Fabrics of the highest quality, however, continue to be made from silk ... and these are very expensive.

Contrary to a common prejudice, not all synthetic fabrics are second-rate and unpleasant to wear.  Synthetic fabrics vary widely in quality.  Those who hold the view that a brocade fabric is always better than a plain fabric might be disappointed to learn that widely available ecclesiastical brocades from Europe (particularly Italy), India, the United States &c are not infrequently of indifferent quality.

At the Saint Bede Studio, we use a better quality of fabrics for all our work. A great deal of our time is spent searching for quality fabrics from various parts of the world.  We judge the fabrics we use to be suitable for vestment work not only by their appearance but on their stability and durability.

Wednesday 25 December 2019

On this Holy Day

To all friends, customers and readers of this Blog, sincere wishes for a Blessed Christmas.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low; the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places, plain; and the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
Isaiah 40:4-5.

Michael Sternbeck
The Saint Bede Studio
December 2019

Friday 20 December 2019

Priestly Ordinations : 8

The Saint Bede StudioRecently, the Studio completed a commission for a newly-ordained priest of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.  Our customer chose to have a set of rose vestments made.

The vestments were made from dupion silk in a quite lovely shade of rose and fully lined in a taup-coloured taffeta.  The vestments were ornamented with a new braid now added to the Studio's unique offerings, called Saint Dunstan.  The braid is in colours of platinum, violet and white upon a crimson background.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

Enquiries : At this page.

Rose vestments

The Saint Bede Studio

Thursday 19 December 2019

Jubilate Deo

Watch this short video about the education of the young in the Archdiocese of Sydney in the Chants of the Mass. The video features the Church of Saint Thomas Becket (Lewisham NSW), the interior of which was re-decorated under the direction of the Saint Bede Studio in 2017 as part of a greater restoration of the fabric.

 Please note that the vestments being worn are not made by the Saint Bede Studio.

Jubilate Deo - Sacred Music Program from New Ark Films on Vimeo.

Sunday 15 December 2019

"Violaceus" in the choirdress of bishops

This painting by the 18th century Dutch artist Carle Van Loo, depicts Saint Augustine of Hippo disputing with the Donatists.  The painting is also of significance in its depiction of episcopal choirdress as it was on Continent in the middle of the 18th century. This oil on canvas was painted in 1753.  Van Loo painted a small series of works depicting the life of Saint Augustine.

Something is most distinctive : the colour of the livery of the bishops is not Roman purple but a shade of blue - at least, it seems so.  This is seen in the cassocks and mozettas worn by the several bishops in the painting.  It is most likely, however, that this is meant to represent a very weak shade of violet, rather than blue itself.

We also note that the rochets worn by the bishops over their cassocks are made from linen, without any form of lace decoration.  An odd omission is the pectoral Cross, which none of the bishops seem to be wearing.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Friday 13 December 2019

For Gaudete Sunday 2019

Rose vestments
Twice a year, the Church breaks the tone of its penitential seasons by the use of rose-coloured vestments. Rose-coloured vestments were never commonplace and they still are not.

Many different colours have been deemed by the Church as acceptable as liturgical rose. Some of these are a salmon shade; some a silvery-pink, almost mushroom-colour; some close to what we would call Bishop's purple or fuchsia; and some red with overtones of gold.

We are pleased to feature these vestments in the Puginesque style, a commission from a new customer in Canada. The vestments are made from dupion silk in a darker shade of rose and lined in a subtle pink shade of taffeta. The orphrey of this chasuble is formed from our unique braid called Saint George.  

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

Enquiries : At this page.

Rose vestments

The Saint Bede Studio

Monday 9 December 2019

The Colours of Advent : an Annual post

Often it is asserted by liturgical commentators and other internet experts, that there are "correct" colours for the vestments used during Lent and Advent. Curious as to the history of these colours in Liturgical use, some years ago we researched and posted an article  here and here, about use of penitential colours for the Seasons of Advent and Lent. If you have wondered what colour the Church recommends for these Seasons, you might find the article illuminating.

We include here an historic work of art to illustrate the practice of our forebears. This work (adjacent) was painted by an artist known as The Master of Osservanza in the year 1440 and depicts a Low Mass being offered at a side chapel in the Siena Cathedral (Italy).

Some observations. The chasuble being worn by the celebrant is violet: in other words, much the same colour as the flower "violets". It is a blue-ish colour, not purple and it is not too dark either. The chasuble is the full conical shape and is ornamented with a simple column-orphrey of dark fabric (possibly even black). Most likely, the front of the chasuble would have been decorated with the familiar "tau". The celebrant is wearing decorative apparels on his alb and amice, which match the colour of the chasuble's ornament. That is a very typical practice of the Mediaeval period. Note, too, the very full folds of the alb.

We see, also, that the young cleric assisting the celebrant is wearing a full-length surplice or rochet, according to the style typically found in Renaissance Italy. Those who claim that such surplices are a "Church of England", or a "Low Church Party" garment should note this well.

Lastly, the altar itself. It is clothed in a dark antependium or altar frontal, ornamented with scarlet red. On the altar is a Crucifix and a single candle. Although it may seem peculiar that there is but a single candle instead of a pair, it might be remarked that not until the 16th century was it a usual practice to have a pair of candlesticks on an altar.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Saturday 7 December 2019

In this Season of Advent

The Saint Bede Studio
The vestments described in this post were commissioned - together with a number of other vestments - for a Monastic Community in Brazil. Adjacent is pictured the new set of vestments in the Borromeon style.

This elegant set of vestments was made from a violet-coloured ecclesiastical brocade and lined in Royal Blue taffeta.  The ornament at the front of the chasuble is a stylised version of the TAU.  The orphrey was formed from one of the Studio's unique braids, Saint Chad, laid upon a panel of violet dupion silk and outlined with a narrow braid in blue and gold.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

Enquiries : Visit this page

The Saint Bede Studio

Saturday 30 November 2019

30th November 1969

As has been discussed extensively in various places, 30th November 1969 - being the First Sunday of Advent - was the formal introduction day of the New Order of Mass devised by Father Annibale Bugnini CM and his Consilium.  This rite was approved (at every stage of development) by and published under the authority of Pope Saint Paul VI.

Between 1964 and 1968, step by step, changes were made to the Mass of the Roman Rite, so that the final stage of an entirely New Ordo Missae did not seem so dramatic.  But indeed it was significant.  Many of the words were the same as before, but they were ritually arranged in a very different manner.  Under the veil of "restoration" to the "earlier norms of the Fathers", ritual and textual revision took place to the Order of Mass, which were not properly restorations but often complete inventions, not based on liturgical Tradition.

The beginning of Mass used for the first time on
Advent Sunday 1969.
The most significant change in December 1969 was what is known as The Introductory Rite.  This beginning to the Mass of Pope Paul VI was a complete construct of Fr Bugnini and the Consilium and had no precedent in the rites of the East or the West. It was the Mass as a face-to-face dialogue between the celebrant and the Assembly (the term used in the General Instruction of the New Missal).  For the first time, the celebrant offered parts of the Mass standing at a chair and directly facing the congregation.

The relative merits of these revisions have been argued at length over the last 50 years and such is not the intention of this series of articles about the Liturgical books 1964 - 1970.  An earlier post may be found here.

At the beginning of the liturgical year 1969, there were no proper liturgical books for the celebration of the New Order of Mass.  The typical edition of the new Roman Missal (in Latin) was published subsequently, during 1970 and not available in an English translation until 1975.  Initially, the propers found in the liturgical books created during the period 1964 - 1968 (now referred to as the Interim Rite) continued to be used.  In some countries, an Order of Mass leaflet or booklet was inserted into the older Missals.  The Collect, Secret and Post Communion orations of the old Missal continued to be used for a few years.

The Australian Order of Mass book.
The cover was unadorned, lacking any
Cross or other religious symbol.
In Australia, a nicely-bound Order of Mass was released in January 1970.  The Order of Mass was given both in English and Latin, side-by-side.  It was common in Australia for this Order of Mass to be used in conjunction with a hand missal from the Interim Rite period for the texts of the Orations.  Images in this post illustrate the contents of this Australian Ordo Missae.

Until the publication of the translation of the typical edition of the Roman Missal in English in 1975, only a limited number of Prefaces appeared in these Ordo Missae volumes.  These were :  Advent I; Advent II; Christmas; Epiphany; Sundays in Lent; Weekdays of Lent; The Holy Cross; Easter; Ascension; The Sacred Heart; Christ the King; The Holy Spirit; The Holy Trinity; Sundays of the Year I; Sundays of the Year II; The Eucharist; The Blessed Virgin; Saint Joseph; The Apostles; Common Preface I; Common Preface II; The Dead.

To be continued ...

The decree from the Prefect of the Congregation for
Sacred Rites concerning the commencement
of the New Order of Mass. 

The decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship
permitting the Bishops of Australia to publish a
volume for the New Order of Mass in English.

Letter of Pope Paul VI
forming a preface to the New Order of Mass
liturgical books.

In 1969, an earlier translation of the Nicene Creed
continued to be used for the Order of Mass.

The prayer at the Offertory devised by
Father Annibale Bugnini CM.

The Advent Preface I
which was the preface first used when the
New Order of Mass was introduced in 1969.

Shewing the opening of the Roman Canon
which became known as Eucharistic Prayer I

In the Appendix of this volume,
ICEL texts for Gloria, Creed &c were
included, but which had not been approved for use
in November 1969.

Read another related article here .

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Liturgical Art in Troubling Times : 2

Many thanks to all who visit the Blog of The Saint Bede Studio, either on a daily or an occasional basis, to look over our newly-made vestments, or to read our liturgical commentaries. We appreciate your support. 

In a previous article, we spoke about the downturn in custom experienced by the Studio and, indeed, by liturgical artists generally at this time. Something is wrong and it is affecting so many livelihoods in the business of ecclesiastical supply. It is commented upon by economic analysts that when there is disturbance in the market or an economy - whatever the cause may be - people stop spending on whatever is not essential. We seem to be at such a moment.

The Church being in a troubled state, there is every reason why the Saint Bede Studio should also accept its share of hardship; it is not fitting to complain about this too much. On the other hand, at the Studio we like to think (not a delusion we hope) that by our work we are making a significant contribution to the beautification of the Sacred Liturgy and the art of the Church. We would like that contribution to continue.

Would you agree?

Miss Bronwyn Jones and Michael Sternbeck
of The Saint Bede Studio.

Perhaps you could help us to keep the business going in these difficult times :
  • Enquire with us about a commission for vestments for your Parish;
  • Discuss with us making a gift of vestments to a priest;
  • Speak to people you know who might be interested in our work;
  • Share links to our work from the Studio Facebook page;
  • Pray for God’s Blessing on our Studio, so that we may continue our work.
Please give your earnest consideration to assisting our work.

With our thanks,

Michael Sternbeck

To be continued …

Saturday 23 November 2019

Solemn Vespers : Lewisham (Australia)

Solemn Vespers for the Feast of Saint Cecilia was celebrated at the Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (Becket) at Lewisham in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

The interior of this church was restored and completely re-decorated under the direction of the Saint Bede Studio in 2017.

A YouTube video post of the liturgy is embedded here.

The Saint Bede Studio

Thursday 21 November 2019

Saint Martin Vestments

Recently, the Saint Bede Studio completed this set of vestments in the Saint Martin style for a returning customer a young priest from Croatia.  These vestments are both ample and simply decorated.  They are lightweight and comfortable to wear.  Our customer requested a colour-scheme of white and silver.

The vestments are of handmade dupion silk from India and ornamented with a braid of celtic knotwork, outlined with a galloon in colours of grey and burgundy.  The set is entirely lined with a taup-coloured taffeta.

Please click on the image for an enlarged view.

Enquiries : Visit this page

Monday 18 November 2019

Bishop Athanasius Scheider

The Saint Bede Studio
The Bishop imposing hands on the Ordinand.
Image : The New Liturgical Movement.
During a visit to Australia in July 2015, the Saint Bede Studio had the privilege to make and present a cloth-gold mitre to Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan, an heroic Apostle and worthy bishop.  The mitre was especially made for the Bishop's convenience in his travels.

These photographs were taken at the Ordination and First Holy Mass of the Reverend William Rock, of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.  These rites were held in the beautiful church of Saint Mary in Providence (Rhode Island USA).  The photographs were taken by Claire Gruneberg and Tony Beretto and were found at the blog The New Liturgical Movement.

Please note that the vestments depicted were not made by the Saint Bede Studio.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

The Saint Bede Studio
The Bishop anointing the hands of the Ordinand.
Image : The New Liturgical Movement.

The Saint Bede Studio
The Bishop blessings the sacred vessels of the ordinand.
Image : The New Liturgical Movement.

Saturday 16 November 2019


THE LITURGICAL COLOUR "Violaceus" in the Roman Rite (Part Two)
by Michael Sternbeck
First published on this blog, 2007.

In the twelfth century, Pope Innocent III was the first to specify the colours of the vestments that were to be used for the Roman Rite; almost certainly this reflected prevailing custom in Rome, not an invention on his part. Although a separate subject from this article, it is well to remember that it was only towards the end of the 1st Millenium that the question of vestment colour became a significant one.  Black was designated for penitential and funeral liturgies, but violaceus was indicated as a substitute for black. Pope Innocent’s treatise De sacro altaris mysterio (Book I, chapter 65, which was written before his election as pope in 1198) seems to be the first indication that violaceus had come to be regarded as a penitential colour for the Roman Rite.

If the Royal Purple colour which emerged in Late Antiquity Europe as a substitute for Tyrian Purple incorporated what Innocent III refers to as violaceus how did it come to be regarded as a colour of Penance rather than Status? The answer to that is not clear. Extensive research is needed into how the word violaceus was used in Late Antiquity. We do know that the flowers we know as violets were known in antiquity and that the words viola and violarium described the flower, violaceus being an adjective derived from those nouns.

So, what colour is indicated by Innocent’s use of the word violaceus? Let’s consider that question differently: not what the colour was, but what process was used to produce the colour.

It is likely that at this time (12th century) Tyrian or Imperial purple was still being used in Rome, but it had become the colour used exclusively by the Pope and by nobility. So, when Innocent used the word violaceus, instead of purpura, it would seem very unlikely that he was recommending that violaceus-coloured vestments were to be dyed from the expensive process for producing Tyrian purple. That expensive process would be unaffordable and unavailable to Western clergy. Rather, it would seem likely that Innocent’s violaceus was intended as Royal purple , a colour produced from the less expensive non-Murex dyes. It should be carefully noted that these less expensive dyeing processes could produce a violet-coloured dye or an amethyst (or fuchsia) purple coloured dye. But they were colours not so dark as Tyrian purple. I would suggest, therefore, that Innocent’s use of the word violaceus has nothing to do with an attempt to make a distinction (as some scholars have suggested) between the colours we recognise as violet and purple.

Whilst I suggest that it is an error to interpret Innocent’s violaceus as intending only the colour violet as we recognise it today, it should also be noted that his treatise in a separate section (Chapter 32) discusses the use of the Mosaic colours (cf Exodus 28:5) scarlet, flax-gold, blue and purple, the latter which Innocent describes as signifying the authority and royal dignity of a bishop. In short, purpura still had the connotation of prestige in the time of Innocent III (quite distinct from a penitential use).

I would add that it is certain that Innocent’s violaceus was not the dark violet-blue colour indigo which is commonly understood today as liturgical violet. Indigo, an ancient colour, was a blue quite distinct from violet or amethyst purple. Furthermore, it was not a commonly-used colour in Europe until the 16th century, when it came to be imported from India (hence the name Indigo).

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the supply of the Murex shell to produce Tyrian purple dye disappeared. So, in 1464 Pope Paul II authorised an alternative method of production of purple dye, extracted from the cochineal insect. Some scholars have suggested that the purple of the cochineal was much closer in hue to what we call purple and led to our modern conception of purple being a mixture of red and blue. As we have seen, the “purple” Tyrian was dark crimson because of double-dyeing. Others have suggested that Paul II's colour was closer to what we know as the scarlet used by Cardinals. Further investigation of this is required.

Even after Paul II’s introduction of the new process for dyeing, the colours violet and purple continued to be interchanged indiscriminately throughout the Western church for penitential vestments and the robes of bishops up until the 19th century. The 17th century painting of the prelate Ottaviano Prati shows that his vesture is of violet rather than the fuchsia-purple that we are now familiar with.

From the 19th century, as the process of dyeing fabric became more refined, that shade which the Church designated “purple” became more specific. Even so (as mentioned earlier in the first part of this article), it was not until 1933 that Rome specified the shade of purple that was to be used for the robes of its prelates.

A darker version of violet – closer to indigo – became more common in Europe in the 19th century and soon crept into the usage of the Church. Rome resisted this innovation until after the Vatican Council, but we have seen Popes over the last 35 years wearing this Indigo-colour during Lent: a dark colour to reflect a penitential mood.

To conclude, a little summary. The word violaceus used in the ceremonial books of the Roman Rite indicates the colour purple (reddish hues) or violet (bluish hues): the Church does not define the shade violaceus as it applies to sacred vestments. But the Church does define the shade violaceus for the robes of its prelates. Both the reddish purple and the bluish “purple” are colours that have been traditionally used for sacred vestments in the Roman Rite since at least the 12th century. There is a well-established usage in the Church’s Traditions for Tyrian purple, violet and amethyst purple (or fuchsia). But of all the shades of “violaceus” currently in use throughout the Roman Rite, Indigo or dark violet has the least claim to Tradition.

The ceremonial books of the Roman Rite make no distinction between the shade of violaceus for the vestments that are to be worn in Advent, Lent or for funerals.

On the other hand, those books do not prohibit variations, which might enhance symbolism in a particular Season. In other words, the one shade of “violaceus” is not required to be used for Lent, Advent and for Funerals.  In more recent years, for example, Popes have worn indigo-violet in Lent and purple in Advent. In the United States, some liturgists advocate the opposite practice. In Australia, the colour of the violet flower is used in many dioceses for Advent. Since the Church gives latitude on these matters, we are on safe ground when we choose these shades for liturgical use. We are not on safe ground, however, when we insist that a particular shade is the colour that the Church intends. The history of the use of these colours reveals that they were used freely, without specific regulation, right up until our own times.

Some views of my own on these matters, and they are no more than that: views.

For the Ordinary form of the Roman Rite, when red vestments are required to be used for Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I would like to suggest that it is perfectly permissible and even desirable to use that blood red colour which the ancients referred to as Tyrian Purple. Dare I suggest that this purple is also the appropriate colour for Palm Sunday and Good Friday in the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite? I risk being accused of archaeologism, of course.

Then, there is the Season in the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite called “Septuagesima”. Is it desirable that the importance of the Season of Lent (from Ash Wednesday onward) be enhanced by the use of vestments of a different colour from the colour used in Septuagesima? We know this is the case in the Sarum and other uses, where a special “Lenten Array” of unbleached linen was used specifically for Lent.

I would like to acknowledge assistance from Inge Boesken Kanold and Dr Gerhard Steigerwald, scholars of the history of the colour purple, in the preparation of this article.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Priestly Ordinations : 7

Borromeon vestments
Each year, the Saint Bede Studio has the privilege of preparing sacred vestments for priestly Ordinands. Happily, 2019 has been no exception.

This post features a set of vestments made for an ordinand from the Diocese of Orange (California USA), who commissioned a set of vestments from the Studio in the Borromeon form.

The Borromeon-style chasubles are frequently requested by our customers, because they combine an ample form with a traditional ornament.

These vestments were made from a beautiful silk damask in shades of ivory and straw.  The ornament, in the Roman manner, was formed from a damask in deep-red and straw-gold, outlined with golden galloons.  The vestments were lined in a red-coloured taffeta.

Please pray for for all newly-ordained priests.

Enquiries : Visit this page

The Saint Bede Studio

Borromeon vestments

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Rockville Centre USA

The Saint Bede Studio
Image : Courtesy of Dr William Campagna.
One of our good customers sent us this photograph of vestments made some years ago by the Studio for a Seminary in the State of New York USA.  The photograph shews Mass being offered in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York.  The celebrant incensing the altar is the Bishop of Rockville Centre, Most Rev'd John Barres.

The chasuble and dalmatic were made from olive green dupion silk, ornamented in burgundy and gold.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Thursday 7 November 2019


THE LITURGICAL COLOUR "Violaceus" in the Roman Rite (Part One)
by Michael Sternbeck
First published on this blog, 2007.

A subject that has interested me for many years is the question of the colour of the vestments set down to be used in Advent and Lent: purple. Why, I wondered, were there so many variables to be found in this colour amongst vestments, ranging from pink to a dark blue? Having watched a television program in 2007 about the production of the purple dye as the ancients knew it, I thought that it was worth researching how these colours came to be used for Church vestments. So, this article is the fruit of my research on the use of the liturgical colour violet/purple.   Firstly, are the two words violet and purple simply different names for the same colour?  Certainly not; Violet is a colour of the spectrum, whereas purple isn’t.  In terms of colour definition, violet has definite overtones of blue whereas purple has overtones of red.  In this article, a clear distinction is intended to be made when the words "purple" and "violet" are used.

Catholic Prelates (bishops and monsignori) wear vesture of a colour designated by the Church violaceus. In the English-speaking world, we call it Roman Purple; strictly speaking, in terms of colour definitions, this colour is not purple but fuchsia or amethyst. The purple robes of the prelates are trimmed in a colour called Amaranth red (crimson).

Is this Roman purple the colour that the Church intends for vestments in the Seasons of Lent and Advent and for Funeral Liturgies?  Some say yes, some say no.  The practice in Rome has varied over the last several hundred years.

The Liturgical Books of the Roman Rite (Extraordinary and Ordinary) - The Roman Missal, The Roman Pontifical, The Ceremonial of Bishops - all use the Latin word violaceus specifying the colour.  The same word used to denote the colour of vestments is also used to denote the colour of the vesture of prelates.  But the colour described by the word violaceus can be either “violet” or “purple” as we define those colours.  There is another Latin word purpura (which strictly translates as “purple”), but this is hardly ever mentioned in the Liturgical books or the works of commentators.

In more recent centuries, Rome has understood the word violaceus as describing Roman Purple.   Has it always been so? Not at all.  Even as recently as the early 20th century it was common to find prelates (but outside of Rome) in violet rather than purple cassocks etc.  This confusion was resolved when the Congregation for Sacred Ceremonial issued the decree De colore violaceo of 24th June 1933 defining the shade of violaceus to be used for the vesture of prelates and left a sample of fabric of that colour with the Secretary of the Congregation for Consistories in Rome as a reference point. I’d imagine it’s still about somewhere.  Certainly since then we see a worldwide a greater uniformity in the colour of purple worn by prelates.

This ambiguity around the exact colour that the word violaceus denotes extends back into antiquity. But it should be noted that in Antiquity purpura not violaceus was the term used to describe the colour of purple garments.

Although the earliest archaeological evidence for the origins of purple dyes points to the Minoan civilization in Crete, about 1900 B.C., the ancient land of Canaan (its corresponding Greek name was Phoenicia, which means “land of the purple”) was the centre of the ancient purple dye industry. The city of Tyr in Phoenicia was especially famous for producing the dye; thus the name “Tyrian”. “Tyrian Purple” was produced from the mucus of the hypobranchial gland of various species of marine mollusks, notably the Murex. It is believed that it took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye! It can readily be seen why this labour-intensive process was so expensive.

Because the process for producing dye in this way was lost after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, there has been much speculation as to the precise colour the process actually produced. The answer is that, because of many variables in the process, it didn’t produce any one colour. Sometimes the colour was the same as the flower “violets”, sometimes very similar to fuchsia.  But garments of Tyrian Purple were supposedly produced by double-dyeing the fabric, which gave a darker colour. Consequently, the colour produced in that process wasn’t “purple” as we understand purple: the Roman natural historian Pliny described it as the colour of clotted blood: a dark crimson or even maroon.

One of the attractions of Tyrian purple was that it was the only colour-fast dye known to the ancients.  Furthermore, to the ancients, it wasn’t the just the colour that was important: it was also the prestige that accompanied having garments dyed by this expensive process, something only the wealthy could afford.  Purple was a status symbol.  In Ancient Rome its use was limited to Emperors, and to a lesser extent, senators, so Tyrian purple also became known as Imperial Purple.

In the late period of the Roman Empire (after the fall of the Western Empire), and after the conquest of Tyr by the Arabs in the 7th century, the Tyrian purple dye became less available in Europe, but still freely available in the Eastern or Byzantine Empire.  After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and until quite recently, producing Tyrian or Imperial purple through the dye of the Murex shellfish became a lost process. In the last 20 years, scholars have successfully re-constructed the process through field experiments.

Centuries before the fall of Constantinople, Europe had already adopted other dyeing processes that produced a colour sometimes known as Royal Purple; this was not the same colour as Tyrian purple, but varied from being a shade a little richer than the colour of the flower violet, to the shade of the precious stone the amethyst. These shades of “purple” continued to be used in Europe into modern times. Other less expensive processes were also adopted to replicate the ancient Tyrian purple colour. We can claim with some certainty, therefore, that there has been a continuous tradition of the use of purple in Rome since ancient times. The last remnant of its use in Rome is the Papal winter mozzetta (see adjacent picture): it is of a shade close to Tyrian purple, even though it is not dyed according to the ancient process.

Before the 20th century, whether the shade of violaceus was closer to violet or purple (the result of many variables) in any given garment was unlikely to have been considered of any consequence. The technological advances of the 19th century permitted dyes to be produced with a greater accuracy than hitherto. A darker version of violet – more like Indigo in the colour spectrum– came to be used for vestments, especially outside of Rome. Thus it was that a sharp difference between the two colours violet and purple emerged. At this time (and up until the post-Vatican II period), Rome continued to use a lighter shade (closer to amethyst-purple) for the vestments of penitential liturgies.


Saturday 2 November 2019


The Saint Bede Studio, at the prompting of some friends, has now established a FACEBOOK page.  This will be used for promotional purposes, to direct people towards posts on the Studio blog.

Thursday 31 October 2019

Deaconesses ? Yet again (reposted)

In May of 2016 we heard that the tired subject of a "female diaconate" has been raised again, but this time - most disappointingly - by the Bishop of Rome who, in an "impromptu" remark during a meeting with Religious gathered in Rome, claimed that the history of deaconesses in the Early Church is "obscure".  In August 2016, the Vatican Bulletin announced the formation of a Commission to study this, which the Pope has decided upon "after intense prayer and mature reflection". *

The history of deaconesses in the Early Church is only obscure to those who either have not studied the issue, or to those who are determined to force such an innovation upon the Church.  The Commission did meet and did not support the introduction of a female diaconate based upon the practice of the Early Church.  That was in 2018.  But now, the Innovators are at it again and as has become notoriously obvious, the promoters of this innovation will not accept "no" as the answer.

Giotto's 13th century depiction
of Saint Stephen the protomartyr
and deacon.
The history of deaconesses in the early Church was the focus of a definitive study published in 1982 by the distinguished French liturgiologist, Monsignor Aime-Georges Martimort.  Ignatius Press published a translation of this wonderful work in 1986 Deaconesses : An Historical Study, which is still in print. I urge you to obtain this book and read it (it assumes a working knowledge of Greek and Latin). It also appears to be available to be read online.

But, above all is to be noted the deliberations of a previous Commission of the Holy See into this very subject, published only 14 years ago and which may be read in full here.

Deaconesses DID exist in the Early Church but they WERE NOT female deacons. Their ministry was narrowly defined, completely distinct from the ministry of the deacon and DID NOT include any liturgical role at the altar, where traditionally no woman set foot. This is not what present-day advocates of deaconesses are seeking. They are seeking the feminisation of the Church's Orders and a ministry at the altar. This is not Tradition, it is innovation.

What separates the Orders of the Roman and the Eastern Churches from the ministries of Protestant denominations is Apostolic Tradition.  We compromise that link to our great peril.

* These are the actual words of the Vatican Bulletin and presumably are not intended to be ironic.

Monday 28 October 2019

Liturgical Art in Troubling Times

The Church is not doing so well at present and many worldwide are greatly troubled.  It is not the business of the Saint Bede Studio to assess the problems in the Church (many others do that!), still less to provide solutions, except in so far as we have always done : and that is by the creation of liturgical art. This is often called The Way of Beauty.  By means of the Studio blog, we also try to help our readers understand more fully the breadth of our Catholic Tradition.

In its day-to-day work, the Studio has also noticed the effects of the Church’s tribulations both by the decline in new orders received over the last year, and by the daily interactions between us and our customers.   Confidence is shaken. 

The vestments made by the Studio are - we hope - distinctive and beautiful. But they are also made to last (provided they are well cared for) a very long time ... even decades. Consequently they may be seen as a form of long-term asset.  The cost of living and the cost of fabrics determine our prices; if we charged less for our vestments, we could not afford to continue in business. It is as simple as that. But we try to ensure that our prices are on a par with other prominent vestment-makers and, wherever it is possible, we offer a discount.

One customer wrote to us recently : 

Your vestments are not inexpensive, but they do represent good value for money. 

Since our prices have changed little over the course of the past few years, something else is happening. There are economic factors, of course, but what seems to have changed markedly is the atmosphere in the Church over the last year.  A lack of optimism, confidence and enthusiasm is very obvious, even to those removed from the coal face of parish life.

What may not be known to readers is that this phenomenon is affecting Ecclesiastical suppliers, liturgical artists and artisans worldwide.   Most everyone seems to be "doing it tough". The entire craft of Catholic liturgical arts is in trouble at present and there is little money to be made in making vestments.

The work of the Saint Bede Studio is not just the sewing of finer-quality vestments.  Even a basic set of vestments is to us a minor work of liturgical art.  Much consideration goes into the design and making of our vestments and no two are ever quite the same.  Other businesses have available vestments “off-the-rack”, in online stores; but we do not.  There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most important to us is that we have thought it best to make vestments for those in Communion with the Roman Church.  Our vestments are for Catholic priests and they are made by Catholics, in an environment which is modest, hard-working, dedicated and prayerful.

Another aspect of the Studio’s work is our ongoing research into the history of the Church generally, but in particular, the history of the Sacred Liturgy, vestments and paraments and ecclesiastical architecture.  This research, which we have undertaken over a period of almost forty years, informs all our liturgical art.  This scholarship distinguishes the Saint Bede Studio from those businesses which simply supply vestments.  The results of our research will frequently be found in articles on the three blogs which we maintain, intended to be simple presentations to inform our readers.

Reading over this post, we ask you to give some consideration to supporting our work for God by placing a commission for vestments with us.  We express our heartfelt thanks to loyal customers who have continued to support the Studio in difficult times.  Please pray for God’s continued Blessing of our endeavours.

Enquiries :

Thursday 24 October 2019

Priestly Ordinations 2019 : 6

Each year, the Saint Bede Studio has the privilege of preparing sacred vestments for priestly Ordinands. Happily, 2019 has been no exception.

This post features a set of vestments made for an ordinand from the Archdiocese of Denver (Colorado USA), who commissioned a set of vestments from the Studio in the Borromeon form.

The Borromeon-style chasubles are frequently requested by our customers, because they combine an ample form with a traditional ornament.

These vestments were made from an English ecclesiastical brocade in an attractive shade of cream-white.  The ornament, in the Roman manner, was formed from a damask in brick-red and gold, outlined with golden galloons.  The vestments were lined in a red-coloured taffeta.

Please pray for for all newly-ordained priests.

Enquiries : Visit this page