Grace For the Moment

Sacre Bleu
(Or, Stuff Protestants Don't Usually Know)


In religious artwork, the Virgin Mary—the mother of Jesus—is typically portrayed wearing a garment of blue. But it wasn’t always that way. Prior to the thirteenth century, religious artwork typically depicted Mary wearing a red garment—the color of sacred blood. Even with little other knowledge about art, it is fairly easy to date a portrayal of the Virgin as prior to or after AD 1200, based on the color of the garment that she is wearing in the painting.

Around that year, the Roman Catholic Church decreed that henceforth all depictions of Mary’s cloak in any artwork—paintings, statues, frescoes, mosaics, stained glass windows, icons or altarpieces—would be rendered in blue. But not just any blue. It had to be ultramarine blue, which was the most expensive color in the painter’s palette. The color came from a gemstone, lapis lazuli, which was crushed and mixed with oil to make the sacré bleu, the sacred blue, the true blue paint.


For centuries, lapis lazuli was more valuable than gold. It is found in only one place in the world, the remote mountains of Afghanistan, which was a very long journey from the churches in Europe where the sacred blue was being used to paint the representations of the Virgin’s clothing. It would not be until 1826 that a synthetic ultramarine blue was invented.


Of course, the Roman Catholic Church lost influence and control over artists many, many years ago and modern and contemporary artists are free to paint the Virgin Mary (if they do at all) wearing any color they choose.


Churches have many traditions, and sometimes we don’t even know why they exist. We sometimes jest that any new event in the United Methodist Church is called the “First Annual (fill in the name of the event)” because we often tend to do the same things over and over again, sometimes long after they no longer work and no longer meet the needs of the congregation or community. Indeed, we in the church often forget that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.


As I have shared with you and listened to so many of you in the visits I have had over the past eight weeks I have heard a number of versions of both the question, “What are you going to do differently around here?” as well as the lament, “We need more young people here.” My initial response to the question is that I’m already doing things differently just because I’m a different person than any of your previous pastors. My response to the lament is that we may have to intentionally do some things differently in the future to make any significant change in the age demographic of this congregation. I expect that we will have the fun of doing some evaluation of our strengths and intentional planning for the future in the spring. We may discover together that we need to let go of some of the things we have done in the past and add some new things to reach out. From a practical standpoint, every church probably needs to do that. From a theological standpoint, we will be able to do so because of the promise of God to “make all things new.”


Grace and peace to you!


Pastor Brent


We are preaching hope on
the bones of the past.

Archbishop Emman-uel Kolini
Episcopal Church of Rwanda