Sarum Blue and the Season of Advent

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer restores the theme of expectation to the season of Advent and brings greater focus to the role of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in the Incarnation event. In keeping with this emphasis, the Sarum Rite (i.e., the traditions associated with Salisbury Cathedral, England) adopted the use of a dusty-blue color for Advent, rather than the violet which is associated with the season’s former penitential nature.

The Sarum Rite, more properly called the Sarum Use, was a variant of the Roman Catholic liturgy practiced in Great Britain from the late 11th Century until the Protestant Reformation. 

In 1078, King William the Conqueror, or William I of England, appointed St. Osmund, a Norman nobleman, bishop of Sarum, or Salisbury. As bishop, Osmund initiated some revisions to the Roman Rite, drawing on both Norman and Anglo-Saxon traditions. This resulted in the composition of a new Missal, Breviary, and other liturgical manuals, to be used throughout England, Scotland, and Wales.  When the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1530s, it initially retained the Sarum rite, with gradual modifications. Under Edward VI, Protestant pressure for public worship in English resulted in its replacement by successive versions of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and 1552. Queen Mary restored the Sarum rite in 1553 and promulgated it throughout England, but it was finally abolished by Elizabeth I in 1559.

Many of the ornaments and ceremonial practices associated with the Sarum rite – though not the full liturgy itself – were revived in the Anglican Communion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Today, however, the Sarum Rite is noted chiefly for its distinctive scheme of liturgical colors, which differs somewhat from that used in the Roman Catholic and most Protestant churches, surviving only on an optional basis in the Anglican churches, such as the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.  In the Sarum Rite, blue rather than purple is authorized during Advent. The shade of blue used during Advent resembles royal blue, and is referred to as “Sarum blue.”