Purple is a color that has infiltrated and played an important role in almost every culture. From being the imperial color of the rulers of the Byzantine Empire and Holy Roman Empire, to the color worn by the Roman Catholic Bishops and the color associated with the Emperor and aristocracy in Japan, this color more than most has had a pretty impressive history. Even in modern times, purple took the US by storm when the singer Prince chose it as his staple. It’s difficult for those of us born in today’s society, where anyone can wear any color we like, to imagine a time when this was not so. However, a historical perspective sheds more light into why purple was at one time only for the royal and wealthy.
Purple, with its deep and bold hues was a rarity to own in ancient times. Where did this color come from? The dye trade for purple was centered in a city called Tyre in modern day Lebanon. It was made from a species of sea snail that was incredibly rare back then. Not only was it rare, the dye-makers had to crack open upwards of 250,000 mollusks to gain one simple ounce of usable dye (made by taking the mucus and exposing it to sunlight for a certain amount of time). Once made, however, the color purple was long lasting and literally worth its weight in gold.
It’s no surprise, then, that those of royal birth and those in authority desired the color purple. It became a symbol of royalty and status. At times, commoners were often banned from wearing the color, punishable by death in ancient Roman culture. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the first synthetic dyes became available for everyone. That means that for a substantial amount of time, the majority of the world did not own the color. One of my favorite stories about purple involves the Vatican.
I went on a tour of the Vatican that took me to the necropolis underneath. Not many people know about this experience, but it was one of my absolute favorite things I did while in Rome. On this tour, though, purple interestingly came up. Our guide explained that there is a piece of stone at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica that is a beautiful tone of purple. He said that this particular stone is only found in two places in the world: one at St. Peter’s and the other at the Louve in Paris. Each person walks over the stone when going through the main entrance to the Basilica. To be honest, I had been standing on the stone, but in the mist of the grandeur of the Basilica, I never thought to look down or that the floor would have significance.
Our guide told us that when the Vatican placed this stone at the entrance to the Basilica, they did so with a particular purpose in mind. Purple meant royalty, and in the world, only royals were allowed to have it. However, in God’s eyes, everyone is royalty. The reason this particular stone, with its rich purple color, was placed at the entrance to the Basilica was to remind everyone that we are all royalty. It was the Vatican’s way to allow everyone in a sense to have their own piece of purple when they entered the Church. This put the fact that every inch of St. Peter’s Basilica was placed and designed that way for a reason.
Regardless of what your faith is, I think that the message of the purple stone at the Vatican can relate to everyone. No matter who you are, you were created to do something great. You have a purpose. The world tries to tell you that because of where you are from or what your life circumstance is, there is someone better. But I say, why can’t you be great? Greatness is not reserved only for the royal or the rich- greatness is for each of us, but only if we choose to accept it. If we cultivate the gifts we have been given and constantly seek to better ourselves, we have an amazing opportunity to impact the lives of those around us. The more we are aware and working toward the best version of ourselves, the more joy, peace and hope we will have in life. People will be drawn to that. When you impact the lives of others in a positive way, you will change the world.
So, what will you do with your newfound royal status? I challenge you to think about what you can do tomorrow, yes, but more importantly today to become who you were made to be.
Daily Post: Purple