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The First Synthetic Dye

Good morning. It is Monday, June 6, 2022.

If I had to choose one color, my favorite color, I would choose purple. And if it was for that reason alone, I really enjoy nature this time of year in southern Oregon.

The Hairy Vetch, with their long hanging clusters of dark purple flowers, are growing all along the roadside. The Wild Lilac, or Deer Brush, is blooming with its light lavender cone-shaped clusters. I have Tolmie Star Tulips all over my property this time of year. I have always called them Cat’s Ear due to their fuzzy, soft petals. The purple Shooting Stars have just gone out of season. Purple Brodiaea, purple wild Iris, Lupine and wild Violets.

I love the color purple.


When I was a young teenager we lived in Milton-Freewater. We lived in an old two-story house. When mom bought the house, the second story was sealed off. She and my stepfather opened the ceiling in the living room/dining room area and built a staircase. The upper floor was one large open area and that became the bedrooms for my two younger sisters and myself. We each had a corner of the upstairs space and made it our own. There were no walls separating us, only corners and space.

For my 8th grade year, I lived with my grandparents in Grants Pass. I have mentioned it before, but my stepdad and I did not get along and for that reason I was allowed to live with my grandparents that year. It was a good year for me. After I graduated 8th grade I went home to Milton-Freewater. I was told my graduation gift was at the house.


I will always remember walking up the stairs to my bedroom. The first thing I saw was a wall with a door. A wall where there had not been one before. A bedroom door where none had existed when I left. When I opened the new door to my bedroom, I was met with the most wonderful surprise. My walls had been painted lavender. Mom had made café-style curtains out of a light purple Holly Hobby printed material. I had a window seat with storage and a huge, furry purple pillow to lean against under one window. I had a built-in bed with dark purple curtains tied back over the opening. I had a soft, dark purple fuzzy bedspread on the bed. It was a gorgeous room, and it took my breath away.

Looking back on that, I realize how much time, effort and love my mom and stepdad put into that room. It truly was a well-thought-out plan of love and action.

I love the color purple.

Did you know that purple was once the most sought-after color? Did you know only the very rich could afford it? I’m thankful I do not live in ancient times, as that is a color, I would never have enjoyed first-hand.

We see instances in the Bible where being clothed in purple was a reward from the king.

“…The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Daniel 5:7 NKJV

Lydia was a seller of purple. Acts 16:14


Luke 16:19 talks about a certain rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen.


According to smithsonianmag.com, in ancient Rome, purple was the color of royalty, a designator of status. And while purple is flashy and pretty, it was more important at the time that purple was expensive. Purple was expensive because purple dye came from snails.


To make Tyrian purple, marine snails were collected by the thousands. They were then boiled for days in giant lead vats, producing a terrible odor. The snails, though, aren’t purple to begin with. The craftsmen were harvesting chemical precursors from the snails that, through heat and light, were transformed into the valuable dye.


But wait, there’s more.


In the 1850s the British Empire was pushing into Africa. The Empire’s colonization attempts, though, were being beaten back by malaria. Scientists had recently realized that quinine, a chemical derived from the bark of cinchona trees, could be used to treat against malaria. But cinchona trees come mostly from South America, and scientists wanted a better way to get their hands on the drug.


Enter William Perkin, a young chemist who had joined the Royal College of Chemistry at 15. In 1856 Perkin, now 18, was trying to synthesize quinine in the lab. After repeated failures, “Perkin produced little more than a black, sticky mess,” says the Independent. Trying to dissolve his gunk in alcohol, though, revealed a deep purple liquid. Perkin’s purple, otherwise known as aniline purple, or mauveine, was the first synthetic dye. The synthesis transformed purple’s elite status, and probably saved the lives of a great many snails.


I love the color purple, but, when I think of the color purple, I cannot help but think of a certain purple item that was part of the darkest day in human history.



“…the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands...


Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”


Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”...


Therefore...Pilate...said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”

Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above...”


And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was:

JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.


Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.” ’ ”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:

“They divided My garments among them,

And for My clothing they cast lots.”

Therefore the soldiers did these things.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:1-30 NKJVThe color purple was a sign of high rank and nobility. And although the purple robe was put on Jesus to mock Him, I can’t help but think how fitting, that the King of kings, that the Lord of all lords, would wear purple on the last day of His earthly ministry.




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