ASK FATHER: Of different shades of rose, madder, and debauchery

“Real priests wear rosacea!”


Elsewhere someone asked if there are proper shades of rose, rosacea, for Roman vestments just as there are different shades of violet or purple for Advent and for Lent.  Some say that a bluer purple should be used for Advent and a redder purple should be used for Lent.

So, are there different roses for Advent and for Lent?

That’s a pretty good question.

There is, of course, a huge variety in what we see as “rose”, ranging from baby-rattle pink to a reddish hue.

Some say that the proper Roman rose, which is sort of salmon (with that orange touch) is what is generally called rose madder, from dyer’s madder root, rubia tinctorum.  

Here some shades that one might see in rose (other than bubble-gum pink) which are variations of rose madder:

rosacea rose madder #e32636

A friend sent this shot of a vestment he had made.


It’s very fine.

My home parish has a set not unlike this, with blue trim.

rosacea rose madder #e74250

gaudete mass at st agnes in st paul

My new set for Sung Masses is like this in moire acetate.

rosacea rose madder #ed6c77

Here is that salmon shade.  I have an antique silk Roman vestment like this.

rosacea rose madder #e37a70

As it is silk, however, you also get some of the shades above.

Along with the salmony shade…

I suppose that if a parish were able to do so, they could differentiate the attitudes of Advent and Lent through the use of different roses.    Perhaps the redder madder rosacea for Lent and the lighter or more salmon-like for Advent?

Speaking of madder, I am reminded of the scene in the Aubrey/Maturin novel by Patrick O’Brian‘s HMS Surprise.  (UK HERE) The ship’s surgeon, an eminent naturalist, Dr. Stephen Maturin was conducting an experiment on some rats.  He had been feeding them madder.  He intended eventually to dissect them to see if the red stuff had colored their bones and penetrated to the marrow.  It was not to be.  Hungry midshipmen ate his fat, madder saturated rats whilst he was marooned on St. Paul’s Rock.  Note the spiffing partitive genitive in the first sentence of the following:

In time it appeared that Babbington had eaten of the Doctor’s rats; and that he was sorry now.

‘Why, no, Babbington,’ said [Capt.] Jack. ‘No. That was an infernal shabby thing to do; mean and very like a scrub. The Doctor has been a good friend to you – none better. Who patched up your arm, when they all swore it must come off? Who put you into his cot and sat by you all night, holding the wound? Who – ‘

Babbington could not bear it; he burst into tears. Though an acting-lieutenant he wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and through his sobs he gave Jack to understand that unknown hands had wafted these prime millers [aka rats] into the larboard midshipmen’s berth; that although he had had no hand in their cutting-out – indeed, would have prevented it, having the greatest love for the Doctor, so much so that he had fought Braithwaite over a chest for calling the Doctor ‘a Dutch-built quizz’ – yet, the rats being already dead, and dressed with onion-sauce, and he so hungry after rattling down the shrouds, he had thought it a pity to let the others scoff the lot. Had lived with a troubled conscience ever since: had in fact expected a summons to the cabin.

‘You would have been living with a troubled stomach if you had known what was in ‘em; the Doctor had -’

‘I tell you what it is, Jack,’ said Stephen, walking quickly in. ‘Oh, I beg your pardon.’

‘No, stay, Doctor. Stay, if you please,’ cried Jack.

Babbington looked wretchedly from one to the other, licked his lips and said, ‘I ate your rat, sir. I am very sorry, and I ask your pardon.’

‘Did you so?’ said Stephen mildly. ‘Well, I hope you enjoyed it.

Listen, Jack, will you look at my list, now?’

‘He only ate it when it was dead,’ said Jack.

‘It would have been a strangely hasty, agitated meal, had he ate it before,’ said Stephen, looking attentively at his list. ‘Tell me, sir, did you happen to keep any of the bones?’

‘No, sir. I am very sorry, but we usually crunch ‘em up, like larks. Some of the chaps said they looked uncommon dark, however.’

‘Poor fellows, poor fellows,’ said Stephen in a low, inward voice.

‘Do you wish me to take notice of this theft, Dr Maturin?’ asked Jack.

‘No, my dear, none at all. Nature will take care of that, I am afraid.’

Stephen is eventually revenged in a creative way – involving laxatives – which also kept him true to his Hippocratic Oath.

Later in that same book, by the by, Jack will debauch Stephen’s pet sloth with grog and turn it into an alcoholic.

Which it’s tough going for the Doctor on the high seas, as Preserved would put it.

But I digress.

Have a rosy Sunday.


The shades of vestments have a lot to do with the history of trade and of dyes. Once upon a time in the West, there was a lot of rose material, which you see in the movies of the late great John Wayne!

john wayne rosacea

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Andrew says:

    Which shade produces the greatest amount of holiness?

  2. Fr. Bryan says:

    The rose that I wore today was the madder rose color that is first on the list in the post. After years or seeing pink, the folks thought the madder rose was red.

  3. Traductora says:

    Great post and I loved the madder bit from Patrick O’Brian – in my opinion, one of the finest writers. But because his works are considered genre and not “literary,” he’ll probably have to wait for recognition until the next generation or so, when all the “literary” writers will have had their sell by date expire and are forgotten.

  4. tioedong says:

    Re: the good doctor was not crazy in his experiment:
    according to a UK site on natural dyes:

    Madder root was fed to white horses to colour hooves and teeth, and to hawks to colour beak and talons. There is even a mention of feeding madder plants to sheep to dye their wool

  5. jaykay says:

    “Jack will debauch Stephen’s pet sloth with grog and turn it into an alcoholic.”

    This image will not leave my mind! Classic. God bless yah, Fr. Z. Which it’s what we be all sayin’. Aarrh.

  6. If the vestments are ’70s-era polyester Pepto-Bismol, then they are in fact PINK, as Pepto-Bismol is pink and not rose.

  7. DcnJohnSaturus says:

    How beautiful those flowered silk brocade vestments are!

  8. Maypo says:

    The Aubrey/Maturin series is my all time favorite fictional work. I re-read the series every couple years. The only problem with doing so is that after finishing the 21st book, the next 6 months or so anything else I read is like eating chalk. The characterizations and story is so immersive nothing else compares. Thanks for the little vignette Father!

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