Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Up against the wall

I've found it very educational to watch the rosary auctions on eBay to see what the modern rosary market and modern rosary ideas are like. Among other things, I've learned to recognize some of the more unusual "types" that come up for sale. Usually the people trying to sell one have never seen the type before, and have no idea what they've got, and the prices being asked vary wildly, all the way from $5 to $250 for the same item.

Wall rosary

One such type is the giant "wall" rosary, with beads that may be an inch in diameter, the whole rosary four or five feet long. Most common is a wooden type, with beads usually described as "hand-carved." Actually they are machine-carved, in patterns of overlapping circles and dots. Usually these are stained a very dark brown, but occasionally you see one that isn't.

Closeup of carved beads

Many of them have a heart-shaped joining piece inscribed with a shrine name, since many were created for sale in souvenir shops -- most commonly St. Anne de Beaupré in Quebec, but I've also seen one or two from Lourdes.

Heart shaped center

Another fairly common type of wall rosary is approximately the same size, but made of a medium-ivory colored plastic, with a very "sixties" modernistic crucifix. I've also seen "wall rosaries" with plain round wood beads (smooth, not carved), with square wood beads, more or less cross-shaped beads (flat squares with small indentations in the corners), beads that are supposed to look like sections of cut branches with the bark on, and occasionally in other materials such as terra cotta.

Most sellers have never seen or heard of a "wall rosary" until they come across the one they're selling, and their comments can be amusing. Some think they must be very rare and try to price them accordingly. Others assume they are the type worn by nuns -- while many nuns in traditional habits do wear a rosary, in actuality it's nowhere near this big.

As far as I can tell, these very large rosaries are intended as religious decorations for one's wall. There was a period in the 1950s and 60s (which I remember) and perhaps earlier (which I wasn't here for) when Catholics in the U.S. were still feeling rather embattled and defensive about their faith, and tended to react by flaunting it in private (while often hiding it in public). Lots of statues in the house, outdoor Mary shrines, and similar items of decor were part of this trend.

Actual selling prices for "wall rosaries" on eBay tend to be in the $25-$50 range -- I've bought a couple to take apart for the large (1") wooden beads, which are good material for making the Renaissance style of paternoster with 10 large beads that you see men carrying in portraits. (See "Counting to ten" for an example.)

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