Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tyrian Purple

We meet Lydia, a woman of business, in the Easter 6C reading from Acts (16:9-15). She meets Paul in Philippi, though she herself is from Thyatira. She listens eagerly to what Paul has to say, believes, is baptized and invites the apostles to stay in her home while they are in the area.

The text records not only that Lydia was a woman of business - interesting enough in itself - but it tells us what her business is. She deals in purple cloth. Purple is the color of nobility in the Roman empire, so Lydia was involved in a profitable business.
(Left) Shells of the bolinus brandaris and (right) 1st-century Roman mosaic of a murex shell.
It may be that Lydia has a predatory sea snail to thank for her profit. Imperial purple, also called Tyrian purple, begins its life as a secretion from a predatory sea snail. Specifically it comes from bolinus brandaris, which Linnaeus originally called Murex brandaris. The murex snails, found in the Mediterranean world, can be "milked" for the secretion or, more easily for human harvesters, the snails can be dried and crushed to obtain the dye.
Murex snail outside the shell along with the purple secretion.
Great numbers of the creatures are required to make even a small amount of dye. The dye was so valued that the animals were harvested to the point of extinction.   

This was Lydia's world - colored in purple and grounded in a sea snail.







Who is that wearing the purple toga? Click on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook link below to read more about it.

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