Updated: May 23
By Neil Allen - Webmaster - Friends of the Creche
Wether you are setting up a display of different sets, or trying to determine what colors to dress your handmade nativity figures, color plays a very important role.
When I put my larger collection together, I always vary the display with a variety of colors and am concerned less with country of origin or style.
Colorful sets work well between all while or solid wooden sets, which helps with the delineation of each set.
But there is a larger question about the color of Mary's clothing that has generated much conversation and considerable research with mixed results.
Recently I was handed a bold print article about why Mary should not be depicted in blue. It spoke in bold tones about the absolute certainty of their convictions. While it was offered as a possible big for our website, I could not trace the authorship, as it was unsigned or dated.
In my own research, it seems most logical to think that Mary probably didn't wear blue, but more a black, white, or brown with a linen underlayment some have described as a kimono style wrapping. While some more traditional explanations argue for Mary in "Marian Blue" - to indicate her royal linage I could not logically come to the same conclusions, so I found myself agreeing with the unknown author that Mary probably didn't wear blue. While the Mary Wore Blue argument has substantial history behind it, the logic breaks down when one considers the general cost of blue.
I once did a projection of the general price of the color purple - like blue it was very costly to purchase and difficult to make. 15 years ago, I calculated the cost of a pound of purple cloth to a modern day $600 per pound...thus only the very wealthy wore purple. Please check my math and conclusions - in short - don't take my word for it!
Mary is also often shown wearing red, but Father Roten explains in his undated University of Dayton article on the subject, that red was often used by German artist beginning in the 10th century. (Blue, Why does Mary Wear. Fr. Johann Roten- University of Dayton).
While Fr. Roten did not offer an explanation of why red was chosen by German artists,, perhaps the answer is as simple as to distinguish one culture from another. The animosity between nations has lead to many civil conflicts, and found its way quickly into religion with lingering consequences.
Out of respect for Fr. Roten, a dear friend, I'll simply say, "we can agree to disagree" and also, to hold open the door to the conclusion that his vast experience with Mariology, has lead him down many more complex paths with much more research under his belt - in short - I may be mistaken.
In Ecuador, as in other Latin cultures, Mary is shown in a blue outer garment with a pink underlayment.
Here's a set we've featured from a Seattle based artist. Note her use of pink and linen.
While the long and short answer is "we don't really know" - there continues to be lots of speculation about the color of clothing Mary wore. It is only conclusive that the amount of emphasis one places on the role of Mary (in the story, in one's religious traditions, and culture) plays the most important role in determining the colors of her clothing. For those who put less emphasis on her traditional dress, I've seen a wide variety of colors used to express her devotion - from brown, orange to clear glass and even all white.
It's really up to the artist to determine how they see Mary most adequately portrayed in their nativity creation. While some will agree with this conclusion, others may not.
Our church once built a life sized nativity out of 2"X4" lumber with articulating limbs and milk jugs for heads, which we dressed to our own specifications. I took the role of dressing Mary. For several days I labored to make the 2"X4" frame to look more feminine in shape and then clothed her in a sackcloth underlayment with a brown tunic so as to indicate her humble and lowly status. One of the women of our church took extreme umbrage of my depiction and to this day Mary wears blue. My theological view of Mary could not convince her cultural and religious convictions to budge.
So, if you walk down this path - all I can tell you is good luck! - And don't expect everyone to agree with you.