Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My First Rosary

Recently I ran across a little package I'd been missing for a while. I've mentioned this before (in Home for Retired Rosaries), but now that people know I'm interested in rosary and paternoster beads, once in a while I get given an old or "extra" rosary that someone no longer wants.

The package I found contains my friend JH's first rosary, which she gave me after a class one day because she now has others she likes much better. It's a pretty little thing, with tiny (4 millimeter) sparkly pink beads and a nice 1960s-style medal and cross. (The "streamlining" of the figures and the diamond patterning on the cross are very characteristic of the '60s -- just to add a historical note here. :)


So I thought I'd share my own first rosary, which is of similar vintage. I bought it when I was somewhere around eight or ten, and it cost me a whole $1.00. (Which dates me, I suppose!)


Perhaps because I've had this one so long, I tend to think of it as sort of an archetypical modern rosary, with the very standard 6-millimeter faceted glass beads shared by so many other modern rosaries.

As I think I've mentioned before, I grew up in New England, which has a lot of Roman Catholics, due to past generations of immigrants from Italy and Ireland. I was brought up in a Protestant church -- then called Congregationalist, now part of the United Church of Christ. But when I was in elementary school, nearly all of my playmates were Catholic, and that definitely had an influence on me, to my parents' mild dismay.

I've always been interested in religion, but at that age, theology was really not the issue. It was the artifacts. My Catholic friends had an astonishing variety of religious THINGS, none of which we had in our church: statues, candles, rosaries, medals, scapulars, missal books, special dresses for First Holy Communion -- and of course the girls all got to wear their First Holy Communion dresses to school the day after, which made me quite envious of all the white frills and froufy stuff.

Being young and female, these things were as routine and unquestioned a part of my friends' lives as playing dolls. So of course I had to have some of these fascinating THINGS for myself. I still have all three of the rosaries I bought with my allowance. My secret "stash," kept in an old cough-drops tin, was of the tiny pictures of statues, medals and rosaries that I cut out of old mail-order catalogs. And I still have a couple of children's books, one of which is My First Rosary (featuring a very Caucasian, blond, blue-eyed Virgin Mary, which I now find quite amusing).

I knew the prayers and how to pray them, but I don't think I actually prayed the rosary very much in those years. It was more the sparkly beads -- and of course the "forbidden fruit" aspect of the whole thing -- that kept my interest.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bedes Byddyng

Ther nas no Cristene creature that kynde wit hadde...
That he ne halp a quantite holynesse to wexe:
Some by bedes biddynge and some by pilgrymage
And other pryve penaunce, and somme thorugh penyes delynge.
...Clennesse of the comune and clerkes clene lyvynge
Made Unitee Holy Chirche in holynesse stonde.

-- from The Vision of Piers Plowman, ca. 1375

The book is out!


Bedes Byddyng: Medieval Rosaries and Paternoster Beads (81 pages, $4.50) is my short introduction to the history and social history of rosary beads before 1600 in Western Europe. Contents include: the origin and spread of Christian prayer beads, the words used to describe them (bead, paternoster, rosary), a short history of the prayers, how to identify prayer beads as distinct from other beads, and how the beads were made, worn, and used. An appendix has complete instructions for making your own medieval-style rosary.

Bedes Byddyng is issue #135 of the journal The Compleat Anachronist. Copies can be ordered here, and media-mail postage is free. (Click on the link to page 14 on that site, and it's issue #135, down at the bottom of the page. Bulk discounts are also available.)

Writing it was definitely an interesting experience. It took me nearly three months to produce about 22,000 words, and at times I thought it would never be done! It's by far the biggest writing project I've ever undertaken, even though it's only about a third as long as a "real" book. (How do all those authors do it?)

It's generally been getting good reviews, some of which have made me giggle. Some of the material will look familiar to those of you who read this blog, but I also discovered some new things and happily included them. (And eventually will probably blog about most of them as well.) It has diagrams and illustrations, but alas, no photos -- the illustrations are "fake" woodcuts I created by cutting and pasting bits of real woodcuts published as "clip art," which was great fun (and neatly avoided any copyright hassles).

I hadn't seen the manuscript since I turned it in six months ago, and I am now grimacing over the usual quota of typos, formatting mistakes and bits of authorial disorganization that made it into the printed version. I'll do better next time: but I'm happy to have it to offer.

I'd be interested in anyone's comments once you've read it. Critiques, too.

(And P.S. I do have a few review copies available; if you write for publication and would like to publish a review, please e-mail me.)