Saturday, April 23, 2005

Roses are red

As I've said on my web page, the notion of ROSEary beads made of crushed ROSE petals must have seemed like a marvellously clever idea to whoever thought of it -- but from all I've been able to find, whoever thought of it probably didn't do so till the 19th or early 20th century. I haven't even found any mention of beads, as such, made of rose petals earlier than that, and to make a rosary out of such beads, they first have to exist.

However, it's clearly a very popular form of modern rosary, popular enough to have spawned cheap imitations :)

I took a look the other day at eBay, that perpetual source of whatever-will-someone-think-of-next modern culture, to see what I could find along these lines for sale. There are fairly clear examples of several kinds of rose-related rosaries out there at the moment, and I found the differences interesting.

One of my co-workers was in Rome a few months ago and (knowing that I collect them) brought me back a rosary. As it happens, it's now become a historical artifact, since it came in a little plastic case with Pope John Paul II's picture on the front, and the cross is a small replica of the one on his pastoral staff.

It smells quite strongly of roses -- strongly enough that my fingers smell like roses after touching it. But it's clearly a synthetic scent, and the beads -- although they are stained red -- are made of plain old ordinary wood. This isn't that exact one (it doesn't photograph very well on my scanner for some reason) but it's a very good photo of a similar one currently on eBay:


To their credit, people selling new rosaries of this type on eBay (this one included) are usually (not always) describing them correctly, as rose-scented rosaries. Some are more carefully labeled than others.

However there are also people who are re-selling a rosary of this kind that they have inherited (or bought, or found at a garage sale), and they frequently think it is made from actual rose petals (which it's not, not when you can plainly see the wood grain on the beads).

I've also seen such rosaries labeled "rose wood," which is a good guess, but also wrong: neither the wood known as "rosewood" nor the wood of actual rose bushes has a scent.

Actual hand-made rose petal beads are generally round, somewhat rough-surfaced, and can be quite brownish or even black in color. The process involves grinding or chopping the fresh petals, usually adding some sort of binding material (wheat flour, gum arabic, etc.) and cooking the mixture gently over low heat until it's solid enough to make beads that will hold together. Here's what they typically look like:


I'm now starting to see mass-produced rose-petal rosaries as well. These seem to have been machine-made, as the beads look like they were made by pouring a mixture into a metal mold. They also look as if the mixture was dyed red at some stage. I suppose the reasoning is that if they weren't red no one would believe they were real. I have no idea whether they are artificially scented as well, though it wouldn't surprise me.

Real rose

If there's a moral to this, it's "Buyer Beware." If you'd like a rosary made of the real thing, read all of the description very carefully. If it doesn't say something like "made from real crushed rose petals", and if it doesn't look like it either, it probably isn't.

P.S. I've also run across on the Internet a service that will take dried flowers from your significant event -- wedding, confirmation, et cetera -- and make them into rosary beads for you. Interesting idea.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Balthasar's acorns

I like to tell this story because it proves I can be as wrong as anyone.

In looking for pictures of how people actually wore their rosaries, I was fascinated by this picture (from the Marburg photo archive). This nice young man is Balthasar Eicheister in 1528, and he has just become betrothed, as you can tell because he's holding a carnation in his hand. He is lucky enough to have his portrait (and presumably his lady's as well) painted for the occasion by Bartholomeus Bruyn the Elder, a painter from the region of Cologne, Germany, who painted lots of portraits of people with rosaries.


Aha, I said to myself: not only is this an interesting picture of someone wearing a rosary around his wrist, it's a nice example of a rosary made from tubular beads, probably wooden ones by their color. A few of them seem to be a little larger and lighter in color, so they might be a different material. And since I had on hand some beads of the right shapes, and an especially nice carved bone bead that I wanted to use for something, I made this:

Balthasar beads

I've found, by the way, that I can wear this rosary wrapped around my wrist, Balthasar-fashion, but that it's too slippery to stay that way by itself. If I want it to hang in several loose loops rather than one long dangly loop and the rest snug, I have to fasten the strands together with a brooch -- and it still gets in my way rather.

As I've mentioned before, the Marburg photo archive is not very well indexed, so it was only when I searched out all of Bartholomeus Bruyn's portraits that I noticed this:

It's a closeup of the same painting, and it shows the beads much more clearly. And -- surprise! -- they aren't cylinders at all, they are carved in the form of acorns!

Balthasar closeup

I have yet to find out the symbolism of using beads shaped like acorns in a rosary. Perhaps it's just a fashionable bead shape -- there's a girdle of acorns carved in rock crystal from the tomb in Lauingen, Bavaria, of the Countess Palatine Dorothea Sabina (known to costumers because the pattern for her gown is in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion c.1560-1620).

Dorotheas acorns

The description of this girdle in Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630 (Debrett's Peerage Ltd., 1980) notes that there were "Acorns of silver on what is probably a rosary of the early 16th century" in a 1904 exhibition of historical jewelry in Strassburg.

Last but not least, I'm kicking myself for another missed opportunity on the German eBay: a rosary of wooden acorns came up for auction a couple of years ago, and not only did I not bid on it, I didn't save the photo, either :(

So what is it with acorns?

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

A paternoster by any other name...

So in an idle moment (several idle moments actually), I went looking on the Internet for references to the word "paternoster" that did not involve beads.

In case you ever wanted to know, Paternoster is.....

... a music group from the 1970s...
"Amongst the most legendary of Austrian underground bands, but with a virtually undocumented history, Paternoster originated from Vienna, and existed for only two years in the early-70's, disbanding after the release of just one album."

... a fishing village and tourist destination on the West coast of South Africa....

... a pub in London ...
(it's located on Paternoster Square)

...a gospel choir in Dusseldorf, Germany...

... a geological term:,

"Paternoster lakes" refers to a string of small lakes along a valley.

...a Christian publishing house ...
"Celebrating 70 years... Paternoster has a long history of providing the church pastor, seminary professor and college student with reference tools, research monographs and cutting edge theological books..." art theater in Frankfurt, Germany...
"The Paternoster, that is the wildest small art stage for artists of all kinds, Frankfurt ever saw."

...and finally, a type of elevator...

From Wikipedia:

A paternoster or paternoster lift is an elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers who are agile enough can step on or off at any floor they like.

Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century as they could carry more passengers than ordinary elevators. They were more common in Europe, especially in public buildings, and less so in Great Britain.

Today, in many countries new construction of paternosters is not allowed any more because of the high danger of accidents (people tripping or falling over when trying to enter or alight). Also, an increased sensitivity to the needs of the disabled, for instance wheelchair users, has led to the paternoster's gradual demise. Existing ones remain operative until they are dismantled, so there are still some, but their number is continually decreasing. As objects that belong to a vanishing world, for some people paternosters have achieved cult status.

An irrational yet common misconception is that it is dangerous to stay on in an upgoing cabin after it has reached the top floor or in a downgoing one after it has passed the ground floor level. However, nothing much happens in such a case, as the compartment remains upright.


Monday, April 11, 2005

P.S. on cylinders

While looking for something completely unrelated, I ran across another version of the illustration of Elector Friederich the Wise of Saxony (1463-1525) that's shown in Praying on (Almost) All Cylinders.

This one's a drawing, rather than a painting, and the details may be a bit clearer. It's by the same artist as the painting -- Lucas Cranach (the Elder). The other guy in the picture (on the right) is Friederich's brother Johann.

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More manly men

Rosaries in the Renaissance were certainly not just for women. There were many Manly Men who had their portraits painted clutching a rosary or paternoster -- preferably with Really Big Beads to demonstrate how wealthy and successful they were.

Besides the paintings of Manly Men with Rosaries that I've mentioned before in It's a Guy Thing, there are also quite a few woodcuts on the same subject in the Marburg Photo Archive.

As I said for the previous bunch, most of these guys don't look as if they're enjoying sitting for their pictures either. Perhaps the serious-to-sour expression is the convention of the time (late 1500s-early 1600s) for men who are trying to look adult, responsible and respectable :)

Here are a couple of the Really Big Beads guys. On the left is Andreas Musculus in 1573, by Franz Friedrich. On the right, Prince George III of Anhalt in 1553, by Lucas Cranach the Younger.

More of the same: on the left, Kaspar Peucer, artist and date uncertain; on the right, another unknown artist picturing Johannes Briesmann, sometime after 1549.

Somewhat smaller rosaries: here's Johann Nieberl in 1609, by Lucas Kilian:

And three from the same family: Hilpolt, Lorentz, and Anton Kress von Kressenstein. These all appear to be memorial portraits from the early 1600s. The third one (Anton) is attributed to Hans Troschel; the others aren't certain -- but they certainly look to me as though they all could have been done by the same artist.

Although some of the beads inevitably are behind a sleeve or hidden in the hand in these pictures, you can actually tell quite a bit about the rosaries. For instance, Anton Kress (to start with the last) is wearing his rosary around his right wrist, the second or third person I've seen doing this (one of his brothers is doing the same). There seem to be more than 10 but fewer than 20 beads, with smaller beads between each one (or at least that's how I interpret this). In front of the cushion below his hand you can faintly see the outline of an equal-armed cross that looks to be about an inch and a half high (comparing it with his fingers for scale).

Mr. Nieberl seems to have a very similar set of beads, and here you can see the cross a lot more clearly; but if there are small beads between the bigger ones, they're not as clear.

Andreas Musculus (what a name!) seems to be holding a classic "tenner" -- it looks like a string of ten beads, with an eleventh larger bead and what looks like a small tassel on the far right. We can see six beads next to that one; if he's concealing three beads in his hand, there's one more bead below his little finger, followed by something that isn't clear. We could be seeing a ring attached to the strand, followed by a heart-shaped thing with a cross on it (which looks rather like a sword).

Woodcuts are, of course, not photos, so we can never be sure the artist is showing a real object in exact detail. But these are interesting hints, at least.

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Monday, April 04, 2005

The Rosary Comic Book

Another from the Department of What Will They Think Of Next :)

I have never personally felt the need for it, but there is now a rosary in comic-book form. Titled (unsurprisingly) The Rosary Comic Book, it's written and illutrated by Gene Yang and is on sale for $5.95 at quite a number of "Catholic shopping" websites. (Googling on the title turns up several.)

The blurb for the book says:

"The Rosary Comic Book tells the story of the lives of Jesus and his mother Mary. You can read it, as you would any regular comic book. Or you can pray with it, using the pictures instead of the beads of a traditional rosary. Whichever way you decide to use it, The Rosary Comic Book will bring you closer to Jesus and Mary!"

Paperback / 56 pages / Dimensions: 5 1/4" x 8 1/2" / ISBN: 081986479X

What WILL they think of next?

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