Tag Archives: Green

Undressing Saint Patrick

17 Mar
Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick wearing the robes of a Catholic cleric, complete with mitre – a headdress that wasn’t invented until almost 200 years after his death.

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain in 387 and died on March 17, 461 in County Down, Ireland. He is the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and drove out the “snakes” (likely pagan Druids). March 17 is St. Patrick’s day, celebrated world-wide by Irish and non-Irish alike. (Find more about St. Patrick here.)

We recognize St. Patrick as man with a white beard in clerical robes and a mitre, carrying a crook, sometimes with a shamrock in his other hand. What’s interesting about this common image is that no one really knows what he looked like – there are no visual records of St. Patrick before the 13th century – 800 years after he died.

“The manner in which he has come to be depicted represents the culmination of over a thousand years of art, influenced by various texts and evolving belief systems, both localized and international,” says the Irish Royal Academy. In other words, his image has been appropriated by artists who depicted the saint in familiar and contemporary terms that people could relate to.

Until the 19th century, few Irish could read, unless they were monks and clergy, so people were educated through image and symbolism through the church. People of St. Patrick’s time would have understood the Catholic symbolism associated with St. Patrick’s garb, which was rife with allegory.

Clerical costume of the fifth century

Maewyn Succat – Saint Patrick’s real name, wears liturgical garb that has long, traditional associations with the Catholic Church. 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher, says that clothing during the early Christian era was simple, and clothing was not gender-specific. “Originally the only difference between the elements of religious costume and those of lay clothing was the use of more sumptuous materials for the former.”

Clerics adopted fine linens and silks for their liturgical costume, and there was “an ever-increasing fondness for rich-coloured materials, especially among the Angles and Saxons,” according to A History of Costume, “and beautiful trimmings, gay braid, and fringes came into fashion”.

Catholic clerical wear has not evolved much since the early Christian era, so mostly, St. Patrick’s image is correct to period, but there are inauthentic – i.e. appropriated – features in our common understanding of what St. Patrick looks like. Let’s start at the top.

mitre

An Annunciation scene worked on a mitre from about 1400; pearls and silver-gilt motifs on silk.

Mitre

The first and most obvious appropriation of St. Patrick is his headdress. The mitre, the pointed hat split in half that bishops and popes wear, is what we have come to associate with the saint, but mitres didn’t appear until the seventh century (St. Patrick died in the mid-fifth century).

In fact, Boucher says that bishops first wore a gold circlet lined with a crown, and in the 12th century, “the crown split into two lobes, one on either side… by the end of the 12th century, the points had moved around 90 degrees and were now back to front.” It hasn’t changed much since that time, though mitre heights have varied.

Were St. Patrick true to his period of the fifth century, he may have worn a hood or a soft skull cap instead of the mitre, but that St. Patrick is bestowed with this head piece that symbolized power in the church, indicates that the saint was highly regarded.

Pall (or Pallium)

The Y-shaped band of wool worn over the chasuble (below) is the pall, drenched in allegory that features six embroidered crosses to symbolize the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.

Chasuble

The chasuble is a circular garment with an opening for the head, and adopted by the clergy in the fifth century.  The saint’s chasuble is green, as expected (more on this later), and lined with golden fabric – a visual indication of St. Patrick’s position in the Catholic church.

According to Costume in England by F.W. Fairholt, “The chasuble signifies the robe of Christ, which is the Church. It is ample and closed on all sides, to show forth the unity and fullness of the true faith. The fore-part represents the state of the Church before the Passion of Christ; the back, the Church under the Gospel.”

At the same time, Fairholt suggests that the chasuble is symbolic of the purple garment that was put on Jesus Christ before he was crucified. Either way, the chasuble was heavy with meaning to Catholics of the early Christian era.

Dalmatic (or Dalmatica if you’re Roman)

Under the saint’s chasuble is his gold embroidered dalmatic. According to Fairholt, the dalmatic was associated with an immaculate life, or “of bountifulness towards the poor, because of its large and broad sleeves.” St. Patrick’s dalmatic is blue, the colour of the sky, which, to people of fifth century Britain, indicated divine contemplation.

Stolestole

According to 20.000 Years of Fashion, the pall began life as a large, draped Roman cape and narrowed over time to become the stole. Members of the Catholic clergy still wear long, embroidered stoles, draped around the neck.

Allegorically, the stole symbolizes the cords with which Christ was bound upon his crucifixion.

Alb

Saint Patrick’s base layer looks much like the dalmatic, but the alb is a long robe that reaches the feet. According to Costume in England, the alb was “not invariably made of linen cloth…[and] not necessarily white. It was originally intended to indicate the white garment which Pilate placed upon the Saviour after he had despised and mocked him.”

The alb symbolized purity and innocence. St. Patrick’s alb in the illustration appears to be white linen, but looking closer, it appears to have golden threads woven into the fabric. To Christians of St. Patrick’s era, gold signified purity, dignity, wisdom, and glory.

Buskins

Our saint is probably wearing buskins, soft embroidered leather slippers of the fifth century.

Crook

The bishop’s crook is another ”recent” addition. Bishops carried the crook, a decorated shepherd’s hook, alluding to Christ the shepherd, in the 12th century.

Colour

St. Patrick

St. Patrick in crimson and a short mitre with lappets  – the white flaps on the head piece – worn during the 12th century) from a stained glass window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

We expect St. Patrick to wear green because he is the patron saint of Ireland and green is synonymous with Ireland. In the top illustration, St. Patrick’s chasuble is green, the colour that symbolized cheerfulness and the goodness of God and of the Resurrection at the time he lived. But this, like the mitre, is something that has more of a modern association.

When clerics decided to dress in fine fabrics, they also dyed their clothing in colours symbolic to the early Christian faith. After an image search for St. Patrick, he can be seen dressed in green, also in blue, crimson, white, and yellow.

The Smithsonian magazine features what they believe to be the earliest depiction of St. Patrick from the thirteenth century: a man who wears not a mitre and cleric’s robes, but a simple, hooded, blue monk’s robe.

According to the Irish Journal, “Ireland’s history with the colour blue is largely related to its colonial history, but there are older associations too – Flaitheas Éireann, the embodiment of Irish sovereignty in mythological times (a sort of Irish answer to Uncle Sam), wore blue.”

When Henry VIII declared himself king of Ireland in 1541, he gave Ireland its own coat of arms:  a golden harp on a blue background, and in 1783, “George III created a new order of chivalry for the Kingdom of Ireland, the Order of St. Patrick, its official color was a sky blue, known as St. Patrick’s Blue,” according to the Smithsonian. (Read more about the blue\green of Ireland.)

The colour green seems to be a differentiating colour linked to more recent Irish politics and independence, which eventually became associated with the Catholic population of southern Ireland. Green appears to be linked to Irish nationalism of the nineteenth century, “when the colour was adopted as a more striking way of separating Ireland from the various reds or blues that were now associated with England, Scotland and Wales,” the Irish Journal says.

So the St. Patrick that we imagine is actually a mixed collection of liturgical garments from different periods, and not based in the reality of his life. However, St. Patrick’s day is about celebration, and the splendor of his green robes, his flowing beard, the tall, fancy hat, and the golden crook gives us a more appealing image to raise our glasses to, rather than toasting a barefoot, blue-robed, tonsured monk with a chin beard.

Happy St. Patrick’s day!

 

Colour name origins, part two

3 Mar

Surnames did not exist before the 11th Century in Britain. At that time, people went about with single names or nicknames until taxes were invented and people required further identifiers. The BBC says that after 1066, Norman barons created surnames in England, and most came from a man’s trade (i.e. Weaver), place of origin (i.e. Woods), from a nickname (i.e. Redhead), or a father’s name (i.e. Richardson or MacDonald in Scotland). The bulk of English families had adopted hereditary surnames by 1400, and several of the most common in the UK are associated with colour.

In part one of our series, we covered the histories of the six colour surnames used in Tarantino’s film, Reservoir Dogs, but there are a handful of other colour surnames, each with their own ancient history, that deserve recognition: Black, Gray/Grey, Green, and Purple.

Black

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire, UK, where the surname, Black, is said to originate

It is believed that the Anglo-Saxon name, Black,  originates in Lincolnshire on the mid-east coast of England before 1066, but by 1176, the Blacks moved north to Scotland and some emigrated to Ireland. Scottish Blacks dug in their heels and have a long history, complete with clan tartan: Black Watch.

However, there is much confusion around the meaning of the name. According to the BBC, Black is a form of ”Blake”, which has two derivations: Black as ”a descriptive name for someone of dark appearance, and secondly originating as the Old English word, blac, meaning wan or fair – two completely opposite meanings.” The Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames associates Black with colouring; “from the complexion”,  and Behind the Name suggests that the name Black came from the Old English blœc (meaning the colour black), or blac, meaning pale, or perhaps someone who worked with black dye. Ancestry.ca believes that Black is a variant of the Norman, Blanc, and suggests that English speakers had difficulty with the French pronunciation and often ignored it (blanc in French means white, which could explain the confusion in meaning). Either way, Black (along with Brown, White, and Gray) is one of the most common names in Scotland.

Gray/Grey

Clan Gray

Clan Gray tartan and coat of arms

The first recorded spelling of this family name is shown as Anschitill Grai in 1086 in Oxfordshire during the reign of King William 1, according to the Surname Database. However, the House of Names says that Grey was first recorded in Northumberland and the story of the Greys begins with a family in the Boernician tribe from around the ancient Scottish-English border area. Grays/Greys have  a long and proud history in Scotland and boast their own tartan, coat of arms, and motto: Anchor Fast Anchor.

The meaning of Gray or Grey is believed to have been an Anglo-Saxon nickname for someone with grey hair or a grey beard, derived from the Old English pre-7th Century word “graeg”, or grey. Scottish and Irish Greys were originally the Gaelic “riabhach”, meaning “brindled or grey”, translated to “Grey” or “Gray”. Another possibility is that the name Greye came from Calvados (Normandy) which derived from the Gallo-Roman Gratus, meaning welcome.

Green

green man

The pagan Green Man, associated with the natural world

The first record of the Anglo-Saxon surname Green, is found in Kent in the south-east corner of England. Geoffrey Green was recorded in taxation records in 1188, during King Henry II’s reign.

Ancestry.ca says that Green is one of the most common and widespread English surnames that could have been a nickname for someone fond of dressing in the colour green (from the Old English grene), or who lived near a village green. Green could be associated with the Green Man in May Day celebrations; the man who played the part of the pre-Christian spirit of nature, often was often depicted surrounded by foliage and symbolic of growth and rebirth.

Have a listen to XTC’s  Green Man and watch the Green Man images that accompany the song – he’s more prevalent in mythology, design arts, and architecture than you might think.

Purple

King George VI

King George VI in his royal purple robes

The first time the name Purple appears in surviving registers, it is written as Purpoyle, with William Purpoyle as a witness at St. Giles Cripplegate on October 22, 1597. It originates in Norfolk but the meaning is unclear.

Research suggests that the name Purple could have been given to someone with an aristocratic air, or could be theatrical. Surname Database says that Purple could have been a name given to an actor who played parts associated with the small group of people who might have worn purple: a high noble or clergy. Another suggestion is that Purple was an ironic Medieval nickname for someone who was the opposite of a noble.

Purple dye dates back to about 1900 B.C. and was wildly expensive. Tyrian Purple, the colour mentioned in ancient texts, was painstakingly derived from the mucous of the hypobranchial gland of ocean mollusks (often, snails).  ”It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye – barely enough for dying a single garment the size of the Roman toga. It’s no wonder then, that this color was used primarily for garments of the emperors or privileged individuals”, says Color Matters.

Onomatology is the study of last name formations and naming practices, and the research into it has been fascinating for this colour surname series. From Greek mythology (Blue) to Dutch royalty (Orange), and from robed monks (Brown) to pagan lore (Green), colour surnames have played an important role in European history.