Thursday, December 30, 2004

More News of the Weird

A few more of the truly odd modern rosaries I've seen for sale on eBay. This batch is rosaries made of various sorts of glass or plastic beads, but none of them the sort of thing you would expect a rosary-maker to use.

Ladybug bracelet

A bracelet of ten beads, with a pendant cross, is a fairly common modern form of rosary. Some are obviously rosaries; others, like this one, are disguised. I've been tempted to make one of these for a co-worker who's an avid gardener :)

Black dice

I have no idea what prompted this. A wish for luck in gambling? A parody? Or just an instance of having fun with beads?

Sports beads
Sports beads

The seller of this one on eBay had one made entirely of baseballs, one of soccer balls, one of basketballs and one of footballs -- this one seems to be made of the leftovers. These were presented as appropriate for encouraging children, especially boys, to say the rosary. This also gives a whole new potential meaning to the term "Hail Mary pass!"

Cat rosary
Cat rosary

Fifty cat-face beads, separated by little "angels" as markers. The winged cat instead of a cross kind of puts this one over the top -- I don't expect it's meant seriously as a rosary to pray with, rather more like a piece of art. Still, there are a lot of people who buy "collectible" rosaries.

Perhaps "collectible rosaries" are allowed to become as trendy and impractical as other collectibles -- thimbles, for instance: many so-called "collectible thimbles" are delightful little pieces of miniature art, but no one would ever think of putting them on a finger or sewing with them.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 27, 2004

Chatsworth paternoster

I finally have a GOOD photo of the "Chatsworth paternoster," otherwise known as Henry VIII's rosary.

It's actually a "tenner", a string of ten large beads. There is a ring at one end, a cross, the usual ten beads, and then an eleventh, larger bead which is a "prayer nut," carved on the outside and opening to show more carving on the inside.

Actually, the whole thing is an amazing, minutely and intricately carved work in boxwood -- a wood often used for such virtuoso exhibitions of carving, since it's very hard and close-grained. To quote the catalog:

"The Cross is carved with the Crucifixion and the Four Evangelists on one side and the four Latin fathers on the other. The Ave beads are each divided into five roundels, and carved with figures of ten of the the Apostles, with the Sentences of the Creed, the Prophets and Sibyls with appropriate texts, and scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The Pater bead [5.4cm diameter] has three rows of eight roundels with further scenes, including the royal arms of England and the letters 'he 8' (for King Henry VIII) and 'k.a.' (for Queen Catherine of Aragon), and the two remaining Apostles; it is hinged and has another two scenes inside of the Mass of Saint Gregory and the Virgin and Child Adored by Angels."

The entire string is 58cm (almost 23 inches) long. It was bought by the sixth Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858) for 200 pounds, from Rundell and Bridge (the Court jewelers), after being in the keeping of the Jesuits at Paris for many years, and then in a private collection.

I've been looking for a good photo of this for quite a while, since the only ones I've been able to find are small black and white versions, and usually they're from books printed before about 1990, when there seems to have been something of a revolution in photography and color printing that allows more recent books to have bigger, sharper and clearer close-up photos than ever before. (People with over-40 eyes appreciate this a lot.)

This photo is in The Devonshire Inheritance: Five Centuries of Collecting at Chatsworth [Ed. Frances Kianka; Art Services International, 2003, ISBN 0-88397-138-0], printed to accompany a traveling exhibit that's been making the rounds in the U.S. (I think it's currently in Palm Beach, Florida). There's a half-page photo of the whole thing, and a closeup of two of the beads.

That's the good news [grin].

The bad news? The fact that this is, indeed, part of that traveling exhibit means that I did -- as I thought -- miss seeing the thing in person by one (1) day. I was visiting my parents in Boston early in November, and the day that I arrived was the day after the last day of the exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, not that far away.

Oh, well :)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Lozenges, flowers & sabots

While re-reading recently the "Paternoster Beads" chapter of the invaluable and weighty tome Medieval European Jewellery by Ronald Lightbown, I ran across a number of descriptions of shapes of beads -- that is, shapes other than plain rounds and ovals, which seem to be the most common in surviving medieval or Renaissance rosaries.

These are mostly incidental citations from the documents of royalty, nobles and very wealthy people in the 15th century, which means that they don't enable us to say anything statistical, and don't tell us a lot about how popular various shapes were among more ordinary people. However it's still interesting information.

For the most part, these other-shaped beads are the gauds or marker beads, which often tend to be more expensive and sophisticated than the other beads (the "Aves").

However two shapes are specifically mentioned for Ave beads as well: lozenges and acorns . I'm not sure whether "lozenge" shaped means flat and diamond-shaped, or (I suspect this is more likely) beads of a double-cone or double-pyramid shape.

In the same way, several paternosters with "square" gauds are also mentioned, but it's hard to say whether this means flat squares or cubes. Since I make a fair number of glass-bead paternosters to give away, I would like these to be cubes, because, with the double-pyramids, this would give me two more possible shapes of glass beads that I can actually document and use, and I like variety . But I can't really be sure.

"Ribbed" gauds are mentioned, and I'm inclined to think this might refer to what are now called "melon" beads -- round or oval beads with ribs or lobes.

As for other shapes, I suspect that "olive-shaped" gauds are merely ovals, and "oblong faceted" beads I would expect to be ovals with a few facets -- perhaps straight facets, perhaps "twisted" like the beads I used for my little "St. Christopher" German-style beads.

There is also a portrait of René of Anjou, King of Jerusalem and Sicily (ca. 1460) which shows him, rather dimly (it's a dark picture) holding a string of very large beads, some of which are cylinder-shaped.

(or a larger view)

King René's personal badge or emblem, by the way, was a paternoster, and apparently paternoster-making was one of his hobbies. He often wore paternoster beads on his hat, and is recorded as buying, making and giving away quite a number of paternosters as personal favors.

For the really exotic shapes, here are the ones mentioned:
- Ears of grain
- Green and white flowers
- Broom-cods (seed pods of the broom plant)
- hearts
- sabots (!!)
- marguerites (daisies, a common badge for ladies
named Margaret)
- heads of John the Baptist (!)

There is also one truly peculiar paternoster mentioned, and by the way, in this case the "squares" are clearly flat, since they're described as having two sides. It's described in Lightbown as follows:

"In 1379-80 Louis of Anjou had a set of twenty-one
gold paternoster beads of very capricious design.
They were small and square, with concave sides;
on one side they were enamelled with chequer-
work like a board for chess, on the other with
chequer-work like a board for tables [checkers?].
To each of their corners was riveted a tiny pearl.
Threaded among them as gauds were seven little
flasks of gold, decorated with traceried medallions
in openwork, and all twenty-eight pieces were
separated from each other by long gold pipes,
enamelled in rouge cler [a particularly
expensive red enamel] and white."



Sunday, December 19, 2004

Creative shopping

I discovered early on that a big part of making replicas of historical rosaries is "creative shopping." What's available from ordinary bead and jewelry sellers is not necessarily what I need to match the style of historical pieces.

Take bone crosses, for instance. The one place I found that used to carry plain bone crosses (left, below) no longer has them, so I'm hanging on to the last four I got. They weren't very expensive, but for some reason it's much easier to find bone "celtic knots" and bone ankhs (center and right below) than plain Latin crosses.

Even plain round glass beads can be difficult. There are half a dozen fancy finishes, such as "aurora borealis," "vitrail", and "iris", all of which are (as far as I can tell) far later than the historical examples I'm trying to copy. Carrying beads in all these very popular finishes means bead sellers have less room in their catalogs for more sizes and colors of plain beads.

Beads bigger than about 8mm are also a challenge, though in the last year or two this has gotten a bit easier. Still there are many bead sellers that don't have any plain rounds or ovals bigger than this -- whereas medieval portraits show quite a few examples of rosaries made of beads in the 10-14mm range. Fire Mountain Gems does carry 10mm glass rounds, but their larger semiprecious rounds seem to come in odd lots, and supplies come and go. If you have a friend with a wholesale license, Earthstone seems to have large semiprecious beads more often than most, they don't have a terribly big minimum order, and their prices are excellent.

I seem to have a habit of wanting a particular style or shape of beads about two years before they suddenly become "trendy." I wanted to make replicas as soon as I saw them of a couple of unusually styled rosaries that use disk-shaped counters, but search as I would, I couldn't find anything like those shapes at first. Now you can easily get "torus" or "doughnut" shapes in glass or semiprecious stone in a wide variety of sizes, and the shape and hole size are just right -- though I still can't easily find them in bone or wood like the period examples.

I've also been looking for flat bone disks and bone or wooden round rings. Bone "spacer" disks exist, but have tended only to come in 5-8mm sizes (I need 10-12mm) and with center holes that aren't as big as on the period examples. I finally found a bulk lot of 10mm disks in a going-out-of-stock sale at a good price, but I'm not sure where I'll find more. The only rings I can find have been drilled through each side of the rim to be strung flat -- I hope they'll be strong enough and not break at that point if I use them to fasten the two ends of a bracelet together.

The tales of woe continue with metal parts, but that's another story for another day....


Friday, December 17, 2004

Big, red, and German

One of the rosary fashions of the 16th century is for what I call the Honking Big Red Rosary . I've collected several portraits, most of which seem to be from the Germanies and Flanders, of ladies holding or wearing rosaries that appear to be at least two feet long -- and that's just the length of the loop, so the actual strand is at least twice that long.

When the portraits are in color, most of these rosaries are red, with gold or silver gauds. Red usually indicates red coral, extremely expensive both then and now. The gauds are at least as large as the other beads, and very often when you can see the whole thing there's also a pierced ball (a pomander, presumably) at least a couple of inches in diameter.

German Lady

I've wondered for some time whether the beads were really that big, or whether the painters are exaggerating at the sitter's request -- the message being "Look what a big coral rosary my husband can afford." I haven't yet seen anything resembling a surviving example.

It's certainly possible that actual rosaries of this type could have been made of imitation coral rather than the real thing. Imitation precious stones and glass "pearls" are certainly common enough in period examples. There's a practical limitation, however: a string of beads of glass or semiprecious stone weighs half again as much as the same size of beads in coral. A string of 16-20mm beads of this size could weigh 11 or 12 ounces (3/4 of a pound), which might be too heavy to wear comfortably. Coral is much lighter than stone because it's basically constructed like bone, with lots of microscopic air spaces.

These big red rosaries are so spectacular that I just had to make a replica. I have a string of dyed "sponge coral" 16mm beads, and one pierced silver bead, which I've strung into a version of such a rosary (pictured below). I pushed a little bag made of nylon mesh into the "pomander" and inserted small bits of clove, cinnamon and allspice that would fit through the bead's opening, then sewed the bag closed. So the whole thing smells a little like mulled cider :).

So far I've been unsuccessful at finding silver gauds in the right size range that look good and go with the pierced bead I already have. It appears to be from India, so I'll keep looking: I expect a really big gem show is what I need to find.

Labels: , ,

Ladders & legends

Humans are the storytelling animal: we're good at creating stories to explain things we don't understand, even if the stories later turn out to be completely wrong guesses.

I'm reminded every year around this time that new "legends" are constantly being created. (See, for instance, the so-called "legend of the candy cane."

I shouldn't be snide about them, I suppose, since traditions can be created in any century and be no less meaningful. What annoys me is the aura of venerability that quickly attaches itself to any "legend," which leads the unwary to assume it's quite old, dating from medieval or even Biblical times. This can perpetuate some remarkably silly notions about what historical times were like.

Over the last few years, I've watched with interest the development of (as far as I can tell) brand-new "legends" about the modern "ladder" rosary, in which the beads are not strung in a line, but are hung on crosswise bars (like the rungs of a ladder) between two lengths of chain. These are now being billed as "ladders to heaven" and stories written about the supposed meaning.

The story most often quoted in connection with the modern ladder rosary is this one:

According to the most popular legend, St. Francis
de Sales had a vision of two ladders to heaven.
The first one was quite long, steep and dangerous,
and led to heaven through Jesus. The second ladder
was much shorter and easier to climb, less steep
and led to Mary. According to this legend, Jesus
told St. Francis de Sales, "Tell your people to
come to me by this ladder, through my mother."

(I've seen this story attributed to St. Alphonsus Liguori, who apparently quotes it in his writings, and also mis-attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. The theology seems a bit odd to modern tastes, but it dates from a time when it wasn't uncommon to exaggerate Mary's importance in this way.)

But as far as I know, the "ladder" rosary has only really become popular within the last five to ten years. I haven't been able to find ladder rosaries for sale earlier than about 1990, though one rosary vendor (since gone out of business, apparently) used to advertise "the rare but famous Old Mexico Ladder Rosary." So perhaps the "ladder" construction has Hispanic roots, which doesn't seem all that unlikely.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

English rosaries after Henry VIII

The inventory of Henry VIII contains numerous entries describing a string of beads "gauded" with some other kind of bead -- pearls gauded with gold, white beads gauded with blue, et cetera. A fellow jewelry researcher has convinced me these are probably all rosaries, especially since the beaded necklaces in her other research are never described this way.

After Henry VIII's break with Rome, the rosary became suspect as a "Popish practice." In particular, the prayers of the rosary were problematic because they invoke a saint, the Virgin Mary. Article 22 of the Thirty-Nine Articles (which define the Church of England) describes the invocation of saints as "a fond thing vainly invented and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the word of God."

People of a more Puritan way of thinking, of course, regarded crosses, rosaries, the sign of the cross, et cetera as "Popish idols" and universally condemned their use. We have stories of parents snatching their babies out of the priest's arms at baptism in order to prevent him making the sign of the cross on their foreheads!

In 1571, the year after Queen Elizabeth was formally excommunicated by the Pope, a statute was passed declaring rosaries and other Roman Catholic accessories illegal. We have a picture published by Bernard Garter of London in 1579 of "Certaine of the Popes merchandize lately sen[t] over into Englande" which includes two very recognizable five-decade rosaries, along with a rather odd circle of nine striped beads and several plain ones, several religious medals, an "Agnus Dei" (consecrated wax medallion), religious woodblock prints, a pouch of "granum benedictum," and a portable altar.

Bernard Garters contraband

However there are indications that the rosary did survive, at least in areas where Roman Catholicism remained strong, such as the north of England and the southwest (Devon and Cornwall). Dr. Madeleine Gray wrote a couple of years ago that there's a record of a seventeenth-century Puritan clergyman in south-west Wales who was reduced to imploring his congregation to use their rosaries "prayerfully and with thought." I think the jury is still out on whether the rosary continued to be used by members of the reformed English church, although it's certainly possible that otherwise good members of the Reformed church retained some "superstitious" traditions.

A good deal of comment has been occasioned by the discovery in Jamestown (Virginia) of beads that look like they could be part of a rosary. There is an online article about these beads (and others) in The Journal of the Jamestown Rediscovery Center, a refereed online journal. (See especially section 2.2 and endnote 3.)

If you have the time and inclination, you can also download the 1997 Jamestown excavation report, which includes details of a crucifix found on the site which also might have been part of a rosary. It's a 2.3 megabyte PDF file (which requires Acrobat Reader).

See pages 22 and 23 of the file for a description of the crucifix with a photograph, as well as some discussion of a possible Catholic presence at Jamestown and the survivial of Catholic traditions in Elizabethan England.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Gauds and gaudier

Through empirical observation, I've evolved a "rule of thumb" that the gauds (marker beads) on medieval rosaries tend to be of a material that is the same or higher in monetary value, and usually also higher in social status, than the ordinary or "ave" beads.

While re-reading recently the "Paternoster Beads" chapter of the invaluable and weighty tome Medieval European Jewellery by Ronald Lightbown, I ran across a couple of exceptions which I thought were worth noting..

One is "a rosary of silver-gilt with jet gauds, bequeathed by Roger Elmsley, once servant to a London wax-chandler, in his will of 1434."

The other is a set of beads of amber with gauds of chalcedony, one among the many sets of beads left by Maria of Hungary, widow of Charles II of Naples, at her death in 1323.

* * * * * * * *

I can't produce a statistical table of which materials are paired with what, since I only have anecdotal evidence from what other authors have chosen to mention in their discussions, but I can at least note what combinations I've observed. Here's a brief list of the materials and combinations mentioned in that chapter, in my estimate of social rank from lowest to highest.

WOOD: Gauds usually of wood, but one with silver gilt, one unusual set with enamelled gold.

BONE: Gauds of the same, or perhaps glass.

GLASS: Gauds of the same, one mention of silver gilt.

MOTHER OF PEARL: One mention, with markers of coral.

AGATES: Gauds of the same, one mention of silver gilt.

JET: Gauds of rock crystal, silver gilt, or of gold and pearls.

AMBER: Gauds of amber, of coral, of pearls, and of gold.

CORAL: Gauds of silver, of silver gilt and of gold.

ROCK CRYSTAL:One mention, with gauds of gold.

SILVER: Gauds of the same, or of silver gilt; also sets of beads all of silver gilt.

GOLD: anything goes, gauds of pearls, of enameled gold, of balas rubies and sapphires.

PEARLS: Interestingly, gold and pearls seem to rank about equally: we see beads of gold with gauds of pearls, and also beads of pearls with gauds of gold.

The rule of thumb, then, seems to hold up fairly well, but not universally. It's possible that there are special explanations for the recorded exceptions: the jet gauds on a silver-gilt paternoster might have been imported Spanish jet from Compostela, rather than native Whitby jet, hence more valuable because of their special association with the shrine. The chalcedony gauds on an amber rosary might have been pure white chalcedony during a time when this was an exceedingly fashionable stone in royal circles. But of course we'll never know. (And no one says medieval people have to obey my rules anyway!)

Finally, there's some indication that having valuable gauds was indeed a period attitude. Some verses that Pierre Desrey added to his 1510 edition of Olivier de la Marche's La Triomphe des Dames (quoted in Lightbown) give us at least Pierre's attitude:
"...And paternosters ought to have fair marker beads of gold, or else beads all of gold in their substance, and enamelled on gold with *rouge cler* [a particularly expensive type of red enamel]. You must not stint your treasure on them, for there ought to be some signal difference in the marker beads."

The thread thread

Just to follow up recent discussions on what beads are threaded on --

I recently re-read two chapters of the invaluable and weighty tome Medieval European Jewellery by Ronald Lightbown, namely "Jewellery for Men & Women, Gifts & Religious Offerings" and "Paternoster Beads."

I was actually looking for something else, but I came up with a couple of specific descriptions of what beads were threaded on, which I thought I'd mention. Somewhat unfortunately for us, these are about beads belonging to relatively wealthy people, so it doesn't tell us much about ordinary folks. Still, it's something.

1432, Rene of Anjou. "Beads of musk, strung on a cord of silk and gold thread."

1498, Lady Anne Scrope. Left to Our Lady of Walsingham, "ten beads of her great gold paternoster, which was threaded with crimson silk and gold, and had a great button of gold, and a tassel of the same cord." (The "button" referring presumably to an especially fancy bead at the end.)

1503, Robert Preston, a glazier of York. Left "a set of ten chalcedony beads threaded on a lace of green silk with a gilt pendant of St. Martin."

Posts in this series:

String or Nothing
The thread thread
String Theory
Threads of silk and gold
Of flexwire and time machines