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Yellow for Judas

Joannes Richter

Medieval artists applied religious colors coding for their artwork, which has been well-
known to all well-educated people and the majority of illiterate citizens. In modern times
these symbols have been lost and the coding system is misunderstood by modern scholars.
Obviously most of the medieval symbolism have been at the end of the Middle Age..

Fig. 1: Kiss of Judas (Rouen


- detail)

Art critics consider medieval artists as simple-minded, archaic persons, who were merely interested
in decorating and illustrating biblical texts. The website Medieval Art expresses the general idea by
explaining “The kiss of Judas” in the Rouen Book of Hours by the following quotation:

“Like many modern artists, medieval painters were more interested in exploring the
meaning of their subject than in painting naturalistic images.
In this illuminated manuscript, the prime purpose of the artwork is to decorate; its
secondary purpose is to illustrate the text. In the illustration, the figures are flat, and are
pictured against a generalized background. The purely decorative panel to the left is
visually more important than the representation of the passage.
The passage itself is concerned with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas as Judas kisses Jesus in
the Garden of Gethsemane.”

I think this explanation is rather simplifying.


Let us examine the painting and check this statement for unproven contents. The decorations at the
left side contain
• blue flowers with green leafs at the upper left image and
• red flowers with green leafs at the lower left
of an image titled “The Kiss of Judas” (exhibited at Rouen).
1 Yellow for Judas

The Kiss of Judas (Rouen)

Fig. 2: The Kiss of Judas (Rouen)

The central left image does contain blue flowers with green leafs at a red background.
The decorated letters to the right side of the central image displaying the kiss of Judas contains
decorated initials as capital letters, which are alternating blue and red colors, starting with the red
text “Ad unam”, to be followed by a blue capital letter.
These alternating initial letters may be found in the majority of the medieval Bibles. The frequent
use of these colors red and blue refers to the idea to apply colors as religious symbols.

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Now let us investigate the central painting.

Fig. 3: Kiss of Judas (Rouen - detail)

Rouen Book of Hours. The Kiss of Judas.


Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Judas is wearing a yellowish white garment, whereas is Jesus is wearing a purple robe. Next to
Jesus a lamenting disciple is dressed in red and blue. This disciple probably represents Peter, who
just may have cut off an ear from the laid down victim at his feet. The central group is surrounded
by soldiers in yellowish, golden armaments.
In observing this painting even illiterate, medieval persons were enabled to identify the symbolism
for the colored elements. The central position of Jesus Christ in a divine purple robe has been
included between a betrayer Judas in a light yellow robe and a saint Peter dressed in red & blue.
The smiling soldiers in yellowish armaments may be considered as hostile elements accompanying
the evil disciple Judas. From this painting we may derive the thesis of yellow as a symbolic color
for “evil” in contrast to purple, red and blue as the symbols for “good”.
To prove the thesis “yellow for Judas” we may investigate some other medieval paintings. In the
web we will easily find a great number of images displaying “the Kiss of Judas”.

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The Kiss of Judas by Giotto

Fig. 4: the Kiss of Judas by Giotto

Giotto, Kiss of Judas


Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, near Padua
Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi

The painting created by Giotto clearly demonstrates the evil force by covering the slightly visible
ref & blue colors of Jesus' garments by an overwhelming amount of devilish yellow. At the left side
of the painting Peter may be observed cutting a man's ear. St. Peter is wearing a light-blue and
orange garment. At the right side another man in a purple robe with golden “clavi”-like borders
observes the betrayal. He may be pointing to Jesus to confirm the betrayal, but the real symbolism
may probably be read from the color of his garments identifying him as a “good” man wearing a
purple robe.
Please note the sacred and radiant nimbus circle at Jesus' and Peter's heads in the same yellow color
as Judas' robe. The nimbus are radiant golden, which of course as a precious metal had to be painted
yellowish in a realistic way. Even if gold may have been considered as a betrayer's element it must
also have been a symbol for the most precious elements. The confusion in applying yellow for
precious good symbolism and for evil will often disturb our decisions in interpreting medieval
paintings.

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The Kiss of Judas by Anthony van Dyck
Another painting demonstrating the betrayal of Christ by Anthony van Dyck also displays a Judas in
yellow kissing Jesus in blue garments. Of course Jesus wears a red robe at his left hand to complete
the symbolic order in which either purple or red and blue-combinations are allowed. In the
foreground scene St. Peter is seen wearing a blue robe and cutting another man's ear.

Fig. 5: The betrayal of Christ by Anthony van Dyck

The Betrayal of Christ


Anthony Van Dyck 1620-1622

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The Kiss of Judas
The next painting reveals a yellow robe for Judas, who may have managed to hide himself under the
purple robe of Jesus Christ. At the left bottom Peter is seen dressed in red & blue, cutting another
man's ear. All betrayers at the painting are wearing some yellow dresses (like garments or caps).

Fig. 6: The Kiss of Judas

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The Kiss of Judas at the Assisi Church Fresco
Jesus is wearing a red and purple-blue robe whereas Judas is wearing green and orange.

Fig. 7: The Kiss of Judas at the Assisi Church Fresco

Judas Betraying Jesus


Assisi Church Fresco

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The Kiss of Judas, Jean Bourdichon (1500)

Jesus' robe may be identified as purple. Peter in blue and rose is seen to put away his sword after
cutting a man's ear. The ear is being healed by Jesus. Judas may wear an orange & blueish robe.

Fig. 8: The Kiss of Judas, Jean Bourdichon (1500)

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The kiss of Judas (1336)
Of course Jesus is wearing the divine purple robe with blue garment and red nimbus, whereas Judas
is dressed in green and yellow.

Fig. 9: The kiss of Judas (1336)

miniature from “Speculum Humanae Salvationis”

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The Kiss of Judas by Caravaggio (1602)

Fig. 10: The Kiss of Judas by Caravaggio (1602)

BETRAYED WITH A KISS


Matthew 26:47-56 ; Mark 14:43-52
Luke 22:47-53 ; John 18:1-27
Kiss of Judas

Caravaggio 1602

In The Kiss of Judas by Caravaggio (1602) Jesus wears a red-purple robe. Judas is wearing a dark
yellow dress.

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The Kiss of Judas by Cornelis Engebrechtsz (1500)
Cornelis Engebrechtsz applies a clear betrayal's color yellow (and a white under robe) for Judas.
Jesus Christ and saint Peter are wearing blue robes.

Fig. 11: The Kiss of Judas by Cornelis Engebrechtsz (1500)

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Yellow and Green in Alchemy
Yellow has been identified as the color for depictions of the traitor Judas. Green as the symbolic
color of the medieval enemy Islam has been considered by Christians as an evil color as well.
Christians considered black, green and yellow as evil symbols.
The following painting1 depicts an androgynous personification of evil nature: the antichrist Lucifer
(left) and a woman (Lucifer's mother?), colored in green, black, yellow and blue.

Fig. 12: Androgynous Lucifer and his mother (?)

1
Book of Holy Trinity (published in the 15th century)

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2 Purple
Purple is a reddish blue or blueish red color with some strange and unexplainable properties. Most
people will define the spectral location somewhere between violet and magenta. Purple however is
an extra-spectral color. A great number of nobles and royals have been described wearing purple
robes.

Paars in Dutch, Perse in English


In Dutch the name “paars” for purple may refer to old French “pers” and the Latin word “persum”
defining a dark blue tissue. The English and French words Perse2 have been applied to identify dark
blue tissue around 1260.

Peers in English
Other etymological roots refer to the words “pairs” and “peers” defining noble classes consisting of
“equal” persons, frequently wearing purple robes.
Basically however “pair” is a singular couple of two symmetrical and “equal” elements such as a
“couple” consisting of a man and and a woman. In Frisian language the word “paars” has been
spelled “paers”.
The noble title “pair” (knight) is quite common in the 13 th century. A “pair of Flanders” has been
listed as:
JAN III, Lord of Petegem and Cysoing (1207-1240), pair of Flanders, knight...
The 12 Pairs of France and the 12 Pairs of Flanders were also called Peers or Beers. Their number
12 may refer to the 12 apostles. They were considered as equal or in Latin “pares”. They accepted
leadership from the king as a “primus inter pares”, but they merely allowed other pares as a court
for law matters. The title pairs obviously started as the royal circle of 12 Pairs for Charlemagne3.
This story of 12 pairs has been widely known in the Middle Age.

Perse = Peers in English?


The words “peers” and “perse” may have been used as trading terms for the royal and noble color
as traded in the medieval Hanse4 . The medieval Hanseatic language provided an international
linguistic code for international business at the coastline between Belgium's central trading location
Brugge and Leningrad, now renamed to Saint Petersburg, Russia.

2
Medieval Latin word-list from British and Irish sources by James Houston Baxter,Charles Johnson,Phyllis Abrahams,British
Academy
3
Latin: Carolus Magnus, meaning Charles the Great; 2 April 742 – 28 January 814
4
active between 1150 and 1650

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Purple for Solomon
The Queen of Saba did send Solomon 6000 young children (boys and girls), who obviously were
born at the same time (hour, month and year). They were all dressed in purple garments5. See the
text in the quotation (in German language):

„Die Königin, die sich eben vor dem Meere anbetend niedergeworfen hatte, zerriß im
Schrecken ihr Gewand und schickte nach ihren Ratgebern. Diese antworteten: Wir kennen
den König Salomo nicht und kümmern uns nicht um seine Regierung. Sie aber ließ alle
Schiffe des Meeres ausrüsten mit Perlen und Edelsteinen als Gaben für Salomo und sandte
ihm dazu 6000 Knaben und Mädchen, die in derselben Stunde desselben Tages , Monats und
Jahrs geboren waren , alle von gleichem Wuchs und gleichem Aussehen, alle mit
Purpurgewändern bekleidet.“
Of course Solomon may have identified the religious symbolism for the color purple from the
divine commands in the book Exodus 6. As a bipolar symbol the color purple may indicate an
androgynous symbolism in the Jewish religion, which has been reported in several Hebrew
documents such as the Genesis legends in the Zohar and in medieval Genesis-versions.

Persian purple tissues


In the chapter “Aristoteles und der Wunderstein” the author Wilhelm Hertz7 describes the precious
robes which were used to cover dead bodies of medieval and ancient royals. A great number of
precious tissues must have been imported from the Persian province of Kerman8. The famous
Marco Polo9 describes details for the production of these tissues at Kerman in Persia, where the
woven tissues have been created by women and their daughters10. Some examples explain details:
The corpse of Alexander the Great is said to have been covered by two marvelous silk towels 11. In
the „Complaint of the 12 Pairs" he is buried under a purple12 tissue of silk from Almaria (532, 32).
Following the embalming procedure he is to be enveloped in an “imperial” silk towel, which had
been spend by queen Candace (543, .32; vgl. 382, 28) and reveals decorations by precious stones
symbolizing the stars in the skies:
“clamidem imperialem aurotextilem, stellatam ornatamque ex pretiosis lapidibus”13.
Firdusi however reports that Alexander's corpse has been enveloped in Chinese golden brokade
(Mohl. Livre des Rois V. 253. 255).

5
source in German: "Gesammelte abhandlungen von Wilhelm Hertz"
6
Exodus 25:15
7
"Gesammelte abhandlungen von Wilhelm Hertz", 1874, pag. 74
8
lat. Carmania. Vgl. P. Meyer, Romania XIV, 15.
9
Marco Polo I, 17, Yule I, 92
10
s. Yule, ib. I, 96 ff.
11
Michelant, 524, 3-3, quoted by Wilhelm Hertz, page 74
12
Michelant, 530, 1. 13, quoted by Wilhelm Hertz, page 74
13
der Histoiria de preliis 110 (0. Zingerle, Die Quellen etc. 249) und des Ps.-Kamsth. III, 23 (C. Müller 134 f.)

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Fig. 13: Marco Polo visiting the Kublai Khan

Miniature from the Book "The Travels of Marco Polo" ("Il milione"),
originally published during Polos lifetime 1298-1999,
but frequently reprinted and translated .

The Clavi at the Roman tunics


A tunic is any of several types of clothing for the body, of various lengths reaching from the
shoulders to somewhere between the hips and the ankles. The name derives from the Latin tunica
commonly worn by both men and women in Ancient Rome, which in turn is based on earlier Greek
garments.
The Roman tunica was worn by citizens and non-citizens alike; citizens, though, might wear it
under the toga, especially at formal occasions. The length of the garment, the presence or lack of
stripes, as well as their width and ornamentation, would indicate the wearer's status in Roman
society.
Purple stripes (named clavi) were reserved for the knights and senators. As a divine emperor Nero
reserved purple clothing for the imperial family.
Etymologically the word “clavi” refers to two Latin words:
• The clavis – the key or the lock (from the verb claudo – “to lock”)
• clavus – (1) the iron nail, or in special cases (2) the rudder pin, (3) the tumor, respectively.
(4) the purple or colored stripes at the tunic.
Claviger is the attribute for the ancient Roman deity Janus as a key-bearer. Originally the keys to be
carried by Janus may not have been the standard metal keys. Instead they must have been religious
keys to be stored in the purple Clavi-keys at the tunic. These symbols are as old as Janus him-
respectively herself. The original gender of Janus is quite obscure. As most of the most ancient gods
he or she is reported to have been an androgynous deity and predecessor of the androgynous sky-
god Jupiter. The androgynous character would explain the male and female attributes in the
symbolic color purple.

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The purple robe of Svantevit
Saxo Grammaticus14 describes the fortress Arcona at the cliffs of the island of Rügen, where a
wooden temple with a purple roof did contain a four-headed divine sculpture wearing a purple robe.
The temple may only have existed 100 years and has been destroyed at the 15th of June 1168 after a
siege by Danish Christians. The color purple may refer to the androgynous character of the deity.

The royal Celtic grave at Hochdorf


The purple robe for the king at Hochdorf has been identified to be woven from very thin threads of
red and blue color. The grave is dated at 530 BC. The colors red, blue and purple may refer to the
androgynous character of the local Celtic deity.

Fig. 14: The grave for a Celtic sovereign found at Hochdorf

Purple prose
Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary
works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw
attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also
refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in
an attempt to manipulate a reader's response.
When it is limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages; these
are often noted as standing out from the rest of the work.
The term purple patch is also used in a more general, and more unequivocally positive, sense to
14
quoted from: Ingrid Schmidt ”Götter, Mythen und Bräuche von der Insel Rügen”, Hinstorff Verlag Rostock 2002

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refer to a period of outstanding achievement. This usage is particularly common in sporting
contexts; for example, a footballer who had scored in six successive games might be said to be
"enjoying a purple patch".
The term "purple prose" is derived from a reference by the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius
Flaccus, 65–8 BCE) who wrote in his Ars Poetica (lines 14-21):

Inceptis grauibus plerumque et magna professis purpureus, late qui splendeat, unus et alter
adsuitur pannus, cum lucus et ara Dianae et properantis aquae per amoenos ambitus agros
aut flumen Rhenum aut pluuius describitur arcus; sed nunc non erat his locus. Et fortasse
cupressum scis simulare; quid hoc, si fractis enatat exspes nauibus, aere dato qui pingitur?
"Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches; as when describing
a sacred grove, or the altar of Diana, or a stream meandering through fields, or the river
Rhine, or a rainbow; but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render a
cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a
shipwreck?"
The Ars Poetica was first translated into English by Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603), although her
translation remained unfinished at the time of her death. A complete translation by Ben Jonson
(1572–1637) was first published in 1640, with another by Wentworth Dillon, 4th Earl of
Roscommon, (1633–1685) following in 1680. These were all highly influential, with Horace
regarded as the ultimate authority on good writing. Through them, the terms "purple patches",
"purple passages", and "purple prose" became a standard part of the English critical lexicon.
Purpureus meant lustrous or dazzling in Horace's Latin. In the Wikipedia entry Purple prose it is
said:

“Purple dye was rare in the Ancient World, with only the wealthiest able to afford it (this is
why purple robes and trim came to be associated with the Emperor and, later, European
royalty). During the Roman Republic, social climbers would sew purple cloth onto cheaper
clothing to give an appearance of wealth. This was regarded as pretentious and gaudy.”

This however does not respect the religious symbolism for purple, which refers to the basic
symbolism in both fundamental religious elements red & blue.
Purple is not a royal symbol for the high production cost in boiling a huge amount of purple snails.
Purple is a precious royal symbol for its religious symbolism. The garments for the Celtic king
found at Hochdorf15 do contain very fine16, semi-purple colored tissues woven from extremely thin
red and blue threads. The raw materials and dyes for these individual red and blue threads must
have been as expensive or even more expensive as purple from snails. These tissues were as
expensive as the purple tissues created in the Mediterranean area.
These purple cult objects, created at distances of thousands of kilometers and at intervals of
centuries and millenniums, have invariably been considered as religious symbols. Therefore we
should consider religious symbolism in the words “peers”, “pairs” and “paars” as well.

15
Hochdorf at the Enz is located near Stuttgart.
16
at a high density of 80 threads pro cm

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3 The colors red and blue

Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, meaning Charles the Great; 742 – 814) has been described and
depicted wearing a light purple robe in Spieghel Historiael by Jacob van Maerlant. The red & blue
colors of his pairs and other nobles in the painting are clearly visible in the miniatures. Of course
there is no yellow trace of betrayal or evil to be found in these images. The initials at the right
borderline of the painting are standard medieval alternating initials in red & blue.
Obviously by avoiding robes in green and yellow the medieval artist explains the safety and
peaceful environment of a great and beloved ruler, protected and admired by his Pairs and other
noble subjects. The purple refers to the divine support for the royals. Purple is the divine symbol
which still has to be deciphered.

Fig. 15: Charlemagne at his court (detail)

Jacob van Maerlant. Spieghel Historiael. West-Flanders, 1325-1335.


Shelfnumber KA XX. Fol. 208r. Charlemagne at his court.

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Fig. 16: Page from the medieval Spieghel Historiael

Jacob van Maerlant. Spieghel Historiael. West-Flanders, 1325-1335.


Shelfnumber KA XX. Fol. 208r. Charlemagne at his court.

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Another miniature painting reveals the Flemish-Dutch author Jacob van Maerlant sitting at his
desk, at which an open book may be identified. The author is wearing a light purple robe over a red
dress. The initial applies exclusively red & blue signifying the author as a truthful religious guide
for the divine path to heaven.

Fig. 17: Jacob van Maerlant

In medieval documents the colors green (the Islamic symbolic color) and yellow (Judas' color) had
to be avoided for sacred paintings.
In the Middle Age yellow has been used to mark all kinds of evils like Judas and the prostitutes.
Christian painters preferred red, blue and purple to decorate the sacred religious texts. These colors
cannot be considered as simple decorations. They were symbols carrying religious messages. Of
course the noble classes who ordered the expensive books carefully checked the coloring codes to
avoid any mistakes in religious symbolism.

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The miniature of Jacob van Maerlant is found at the front page of the Spiegel historiael. The layout
for the page is restricted to red, blue and purple.

Fig. 18: frontpage for the Spiegel historiael

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4 The Paars = the Pairs
The official etymological explanation for the Dutch word “paars” is rather obscure. Etymological
experts suggest a derivation from Persae 'Persians', Persia 'Persia' and perzik (Peach).
The main etymological database http://www.etymologie.nl/ reveals the following entries for
medieval words around 1300 AD:
paars Substantive (as a 'colour')
Mnl. perse 'purple (sheet)' [1294; VMNW], perse saye 'purple woolen sheets' [1296;
VMNW],
peers bruxsch lakene ' purple sheets from Brugge' [1343-44; MNW], groen of blaeu of root
of paers [ca. 1475; MNW].
Two documents from 1672 and 1742 reveal references to the words „Paars“ respectively „Pers“,
which may be analysed in details. Both documents describe an assembly hall for the peers of
Leiden, called „Paars“ or „Pers“. Basically these words have been derived from Latin „Pares“, the
“equals”.
Korte besgryving van het Lugdunum Batavorum nu Leyden by Simon van Leeuwen – 1672

Het selve Stadhuys is soo onder als boven in verscheide plaatsen verdeelt, elk tot sijn
byfonder gebruyk, als fijn boven de Grote Vroedschaps-kamer, Burgermeesters kamer,
Schepens kamer, Secretarie, Griffie ende Wees-kamer, voor ende tussen dewelke een groote
Wandel-plaats, dat men de Paars nomt, ten eynde van dewelke twee vertrekken voor sijn,
daar de Burgen alle nagten de wagt houden. Boven deselve Paars is de Artelerie ende
Wapen-kamer,
Hedendaegsche historie... - Seite 523 by Thomas Salmon, Jan Wagenaar, Matthias Van Goch – 1742

Langs den eerst beschreeven' Buiten-opgang van twintig trappen naar bovengaande, komt
men op eene ruime Zaal, gemeenlyk de Paars of Pers genaamd, die zeventig treden lang is.
These words “paars” and “pers” may be related to English “peers” and “pairs”. Now “pair” itself is
a complex word, symbolizing a plural in a singular word. The usage in Dutch is even more
complicated than in English.

When used without a modifier, pairs is the only possible plural: Pairs of skaters glided over the ice.
When modified by a number, pairs is the more common form, especially referring to persons: Six
pairs of masked dancers led the procession. The unmarked plural pair is used mainly in reference to
inanimate objects or non-humans: He has three pair (or pairs) of loafers. Two pair (or pairs) of barn
owls have nested on our property.

Pair signifying two individuals can take either a singular or plural verb, but it is usually followed
by a plural verb and referred to by a plural pronoun: The guilty pair have not been seen since their
escape.

In the sense “a set or combination of more than two objects forming a collective whole,” pair
occurs chiefly in fixed phrases: a pair of beads; a pair of stairs. This use is now somewhat old-
fashioned.

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5 Conclusion
Purple has been respected and documented as a divine symbol by Moses (→ 25x in the book
Exodus) and Solomon (→ 3 x in Chronicles), respectively the queen of Saba, at the Romans (→
emperor Nero), at the Slavian peoples (→ Svantevit) at the Celts (→ Hochdorf). According to
Marco Polo17 purple may have been produced in Persia, probably resulting in the Dutch word
“paars”.
We are advised to consider purple, red and blue as international religious symbols. At the center of
the rainbow's spectra green is the symbolic color for Islam. In the medieval crusades Christianity
and Islam have been opponents at war, resulting in the medieval opponent color symbols green and
purple (or red & blue).
In ancient and medieval eras yellow is a betrayer's symbol for the evil and prostitutes. In
Christianity yellow and green are contrasting to purple, red and blue. In contrast to green the
religious symbol purple is a bipolar symbol referring to a mixture of red & blue.
Further investigations18 allow us to consider a relation between “paars” and the English and French
words “pairs” and “peers”. These references may have been caused by the Hanseatic trading
language, which played an international role quite similar to modern English. The “Pairs” probably
started as the group of 12 knights at the court of Charlemagne.
Basically “pairs” and “peers” are bipolar, medieval symbol just like “purple” and “paars”,
revealing religious and / or androgynous symbolism.
Reconsidering the religious symbolism of red & blue in ancient documents we may also have to
rephrase the idea to implement these colors as symbols in the flags, such as the Union Jack, the Star
Spangled banner, as well as the national Dutch and French tricolors. Purple as an element in flags is
rather seldom, which may have been forbidden for religious reasons, but red & blue are quit
frequently found in flags all over the world. The number of evidences leading to religious
symbolism is rising. Any day now the idea may become a standard scientific fact, as soon as it is to
be accepted as a religious foundation from historical documents...

Fig. 19: National Dutch tricolors

17
1254 – 1324
18
see the Scribd- document The Sky-God Dyaeus.

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