Monday, November 29, 2004

Ring around the Rosary

A question I'd had for some time but never had an answer for: How far back do rosary rings date?

The idea of a ring-shaped device with ten "bumps" for the ten Hail Marys seems like the sort of thing that could have been invented any time. But what attracted my attention to the history of the idea was someone selling replicas on eBay a couple of years ago of a supposed "16th-century" English rosary ring. They were only asking a couple of dollars, so I bought one and added it to my teaching collection.

Replica ring from eBay

I didn't find the story the seller was telling very convincing -- he claimed it was "found in a field where in the 1500’s a priest was said to have been hung". Someone who knows a little about the persecution of Roman Catholics in England would begin by pointing out that (1) it wasn't illegal simply to be a Catholic priest in 1500s England, in fact there were plenty of them left over from the old days, still living quietly on their pensions, that (2) active persecution of missionary priests didn't start till well into the 1580s, that (3) when missionary priests were found they were treated as State prisoners rather than simply hung, and (4) anyway that merely finding something in the same field where such a thing happened doesn't mean there is any connection. However.

This still left me looking for historical evidence.

At this point the only actual rosary rings I'd seen were modern. Various styles of modern rosary rings show up pretty regularly on eBay and in religious goods stores. Most of the modern ones look like these:

Modern bronze rosary ring

Modern openwork rosary ring

I imagine they'd be quite uncomfortable to actually wear on a finger, but they're really designed more as something to carry in one's pocket for easy (and perhaps discreet) use. They have an advantage over strung beads in that beads can't possibly come loose or fall off. Sometimes they're referred to as "soldier's rosaries."

Another modern version looks rather more comfortable for actual wearing. I've seen several versions of these as well:


A Ringer!

Much to my surprise, however -- considering my skepticism about the supposed 16th-century replicas on eBay -- when I finally had the time to start combing online museum images for period rosaries, the Victoria & Albert Museum turns out to have one, which they date to 1500-1520. Here's a small version of their picture.


Unfortunately the way the V&A online image collection is set up makes it hard to create direct links, but if you go to and enter 775-1871 (the object number) into the Search box, that will take you to the page featuring this ring, where they have some interesting things to say.

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Paternoster Row

I feel a little like a proud parent :) I just checked today, and the domain name I was looking for has indeed been registered to me. I've switched over my web address to the new domain, so should now take you directly to the introductory (and so far, only!) page on my paternosters website. It's going to involve fiddling here and there with the webpage title and header, but it's the same page it was last week.

I figured that if I wanted my own domain name, now was the time to do something about it, before I started submitting the web address to search engines, web rings and the like. As it turned out, my first choice was taken by a financial institution that wanted to protect its company name by occupying not only the ".com" version but also .net, .org and just about any other suffix they could find. A middle-of-the-night inspiration led me to think of "Paternoster Row" and here I am!

So if you're passing on my website name to anyone else: the old address will still get you there, but I'd prefer you send them to, which should be good for as long as I have a website, Lord willing and the creek don't rise.


News of the weird

As I've mentioned, I keep an eye on eBay when I have time, just out of curiosity about trends in modern rosaries. When something particularly interests or amuses me, I often save one or more of the photos from the item. (I've also found, BTW, that eBay sellers in general are more than willing to directly e-mail a better photo, if they have one, to someone who writes and asks.)

Once in a while someone will make a rosary out of some really strange stuff -- not normal "beads' at all. I haven't seen any historical records of people doing this in, say, the Middle Ages or the Renaissance -- largely I suspect because people generally didn't make their own rosaries but bought them from a craftsman. I can certainly imagine someone collecting something like small bezoar stones, pieces of bone, etc. and having a rosary made from them -- but I'm not aware of any examples of medieval or Renaissance rosaries made of anything really un-bead-like.

Here are a couple of the ones I've happened to see on eBay.

Shark vertebrae

Shark vertebrae

Somehow I doubt that there is any profound meaning intended by the choice of shark vertebrae as a material. Most likely someone merely found them on the beach, decided they looked intriguing or pretty, and proceeded to make a rosary from them. The impression I get is that the "beads" are rather large items (maybe an inch in diameter) and that this is probably supposed to be a "wall rosary" rather than something for practical use.



A couple of the major bead sellers (I noticed it at Fire Mountain) are now selling a wide variety of pierced and strung shells and shell bits of various types. Here's a rosary someone made from these materials. Again I suspect this is largely a "wouldn't this be interesting" piece than anything of Deep Meaning.

Plastic doves

Wedding rosary with plastic doves

This is a "wedding rosary" with two loops of five decades joined together. The Aves are ordinary beads, but the Our Father beads (gauds) are little plastic doves. It looks pretty, but I can't banish the image of sticking a big needle through each little dove as the rosary is being strung. EEEEuuuuuuwwww!

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