Why Are Apostle Vestments Traditionally Colored Red?

Why Are Apostle Vestments Traditionally Colored Red?

Aug 29th 2023

If you look up classical depictions of Jesus, you will notice that in many representations he is portrayed as wearing a red garment; sometimes a red mantle or robe.

This is something you can see in Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” as well as in El Greco’s “Christ Carrying the Cross,” Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus,” among countless other classical works.

It is a common theme. Something that is also commonly depicted are representations of the apostles in similarly red vestments.

But why is this color predominant in apostle vestments and in portrayals of Jesus? Let’s take a look at this color symbolism here.

What Is an Apostle? The Meaning of the Word

First, we need to take a closer look at what an apostle is, and where the word comes from.

Let’s start with the root of the word. The English word “apostle” is derivative of the Greek verb “apostéllein,” or “to send off,” from which we get the word “apóstolos,” for “one who is sent off.”

A few iterations later and we have our modern English word, “apostle.”

Classically, most of us think of the original 12 Apostles of Jesus when we hear the word. Among the original 12 Apostles was Simon Peter, who later went on to become one of the founders of the first church.

In this sense, there are no new apostles - but taking another definition of the word, we have the modern interpretation of an apostle as the first teacher of the Word of God in a new location.

In this respect, missionaries who go forth to spread the Word of the Lord and found churches in new lands and communities can be seen as apostles of the church.

So we can see where and how the term is still applicable today. But that doesn’t answer the question of why apostle vestments are typically red.

Let’s refer back to the classical portrayals of Jesus in a red cloak or mantle for an answer here.

Why Is Jesus Often Depicted with a Red Mantle?

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The portrayal of Jesus in red in art and cultural depictions goes back beyond classical conventions and has its roots not only in the earliest tales of the Bible but also in Hebrew etymology.

The name of Adam, the first man, means “one formed from Earth.” However, the Hebrew morpheme “-dam” also connotes blood.

Thus these depictions of Jesus wearing red may be a callback to the name of the first man in history. He is, after all, the Son of Man.

It is also possible that these depictions of Jesus wearing red are a symbol of the Passion he would come to suffer, or to divine genealogy. As the Father incarnate, the blood of all men, of all creation, symbolically runs through him.

In addition to its ascriptions to passion, blood, and suffering, the color red also connotes royalty and sacrifice.

It is also conceivable that these artists may have used the color red in association with Jesus as a sort of foreshadowing of the sacrifice.

Red has also been associated with the blood subsequently shed by the martyrs, though this would indicate a similar vein of foreshadowing.

There is also the possibility that the color red is used artistically to represent fire, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

This may bear some significance to the reason that apostle vestments are commonly colored red.

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Apostle Vestments and Color Symbolism

In addition to the fact that the color red is so closely associated with Jesus and the Passion of the Christ, red is associated with the Pentecost.

This goes back to the Acts of the Apostles, in the second book of which all of the Apostles were gathered in one place.

In the same book, “there appeared unto them like cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:3-4).

In the act of gathering, the Apostles had formed a church, just as modern apostles do when they accept a mission.

In this church, the Holy Spirit smote them each with tongues of fire - the color red.

God also appears to Moses in Exodus as a burning bush, and to the Israelites as a Pillar of Fire that guided them in the Wilderness.

These are a few of the reasons that Apostle garments are typically colored red, as well as why clerics typically wear red at Pentecost, to commemorate this Divine Revelation to the 12 Apostles.

High-Quality Apostle Vestments at Affordable Prices

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Looking for high-quality apostle vestments? View the Divinity Clergy Wear collection via the previous link.

And, if you have any questions, you can reach out to us directly at 609-838-7154 or pay us a visit at our showroom in Hamilton, New Jersey, which is just about halfway between New York and Philadelphia.