Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Beads with passion

As I mentioned in Five-Wounds Rosaries, there's an entire genre of rosaries that feature various combinations of tools or symbols of the Passion of Christ. The simplest are the "Five Wounds" rosaries, which usually feature two hands, two feet and either a heart or a head, in addition to the usual Ave beads and Paters or gauds.

I'm not sure how much is known about how such rosaries have historically been used, and what prayers they have been used for. Since most of them have the usual five (or fifteen) decades of beads, they can be prayed just like a more conventional rosary. But of course the sequence of prayers we now know as "the rosary" is not, and never has been, the only possible combination of prayers said using a string of beads.

Here's an example that showed up on the German eBay a year or so ago:

light passion rosary

And here's an older one of blue glass beads, with carved bone parts and caps, tentatively dated to the 17th century. Note this one is 6 decades.


Another version:


Passion rosaries in general, like these, often make a rather eclectic selection from the many possible tools or symbols. A "five wounds" rosary may have hands, feet, a heart, a skull (as well as a separate head), a hammer, a chalice, or a little three-pronged item that represents a cluster of three nails.

Other "tools of the Passion" in the strict sense may include a spear (sometimes trident-headed), a ladder, pincers, a crown of thorns, and a scourge. I've also seen a clenched fist, which may represent being beaten.

Less obvious symbols include a rooster (!), representing the one that crowed to remind St. Peter of his denial that he knew Christ. You will also sometimes see a heart, a sword, a T-shaped tunic to represent Christ's "seamless garment," and even the pair of dice that the Roman soldiers are supposed to have thrown to see who would get the tunic. There are also a couple more things I haven't identified yet because they are shown on edge in the photos. A sponge is a possible candidate, as it's often included in the collection of similar items shown on a shield and collectively called the "arma Christi" (i.e. the "coat-of-arms" of Christ).

There are two Passion rosaries in the Cologne (Köln) diocesan museum that have more than five decades and a lively assortment of parts including most of those I've mentioned above. There are clearly some duplications and missing beads. Both are dated to the 17th or 18th century.

This one has a chain construction, 12 incomplete decades of faceted black glass beads, paters with silver caps, and cast silver parts.

In this one, each of the cast gold parts is placed between 2 silver filigree beads to mark the end of a decade, the assemblage serving as the Pater marker. The Aves are faceted coral. 15 decades. This one has two roosters and (I think)two chalices, suggesting it was assembled from fragments of more than one original.