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Linen, Purple, Scarlet & Gold: The Church of Rome

Revelation 18:16

And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!


The colours purple and scarlet have been historically associated with power, wealth, and religious authority, particularly in the context of Rome and the Vatican. White and gold are colours that have been historically associated with purity, divinity, and wealth. This essay aims to analyse the significance of these colours to Rome, and their implications in a historical & theological context.



A colour often associated with royalty and nobility, has been a significant emblem of power since ancient times. The Roman emperors, for instance, were known for their use of the 'trabea', a ceremonial garment dyed in Tyrian purple, which was considered the regalest of purples. This colour was obtained from a species of sea snail, making it expensive and thus a symbol of wealth and power. In the Catholic Church, purple is used during the seasons of Advent and Lent, periods of waiting and penance, signifying the faithful's preparation for the coming of Christ.



Scarlet on the other hand, is a vibrant, bold colour that has been used to symbolise both sin and sacrifice in Christian theology. The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, wear scarlet as a symbol of their willingness to shed their blood in defence of their faith. In the Bible, scarlet is often used symbolically for blood and wine but more specifically in the Book of Revelation, where it is associated with the Whore of Babylon (possibly superficial rouge makeup), often interpreted as a symbol of a corrupt church or society.


White linen

Often associated with purity and innocence, this holds a profound symbolic significance. In the Roman Catholic Church, white is used during liturgical seasons such as Christmas and Easter, which celebrate the birth and resurrection of Christ, respectively. It is also used during sacraments like baptism and marriage, symbolising a new beginning and purity of intent. Historically, in ancient Rome, white was associated with the goddess Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family.


Gold and precious jewels

On the other hand, is a colour that carries connotations of wealth, divinity, and the divine light of God. The opulence of the Vatican, with its golden adornments and richly decorated interiors, mirrors the wealth and power of ancient Rome and the priesthood of Israel. In Christian iconography, gold is often used to depict divine light or the radiance of heaven. It is also used in the vestments of high-ranking clergy during important liturgical celebrations, signifying the glory of God and the heavenly reward for the faithful.


The Vatican, as the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, has long been associated with these colours. The ceremonial robes of its highest officials, cardinals, and bishops, are traditionally purple and scarlet respectively, continuing the traditions of the Roman Empire.  The Papal vestments are often white or gold, particularly during high liturgical seasons, reflecting the purity and divinity of Christ. The interiors of the Vatican, particularly the Sistine Chapel with its golden ceiling, are a testament to this association.

The colours purple and scarlet, white linen, gold, and precious jewels hold deep historical and symbolic significance in Rome and the Vatican. Their interpretation can vary greatly depending on cultural, historical, and individual contexts. They have been used in various cultures and religions worldwide to symbolise a range of concepts, from wealth and power to spiritual purity.