Thursday, March 17, 2005

Five-Wounds rosaries

Occasionally a rosary comes up for sale that has "hands" -- along with feet, a head or heart, and/or various tools of the Passion (nails, hammer, crown of thorns). In general these are referred to as "rosaries of the Passion", of which there are several types. I've seen a few of these that date somewhere in the 16th to 18th centuries; six are pictured in one of my mainstay reference sources, 500 Jahre Rosenkranz.

The exact configuration varies, as does the degree of sophistication. One of the more common types is referred to as a "Five Wounds" rosary. Generally these have five decades, with two hands, two feet, and one heart or head (or sometimes a skull). The hand-carved or cast-metal "body parts" are usually in addition to the Pater ("Our Father") beads, and usually they are strung directly on the rosary thread somewhere in the middle of each decade (i.e. they are not "charms" attached later). In the historical examples I've seen, the hands, feet, etc. are sometimes just flat cutouts, sometimes 3-dimensional and rather realistic.

This example, from the diocesan museum in Cologne (which seems to be one of the major European collections of rosaries) is of bone or ivory, from the 17th century:

And an enlarged detail:

There was actually a rosary very much like this, with wooden beads and cast-metal parts, for sale on the German version of eBay a year or so ago. Rosaries that are the least bit unusual from eBay tend to run in the $100+ range, but I'm still kicking myself for not having at least put in a bid. I did download the photos, though:

A closeup -- and note that this example has two hands, a head, a hammer and nails rather than five actual "wound" symbols:

eBay dark wood

Ways of counting the wounds of Christ vary, as do the choices of exactly what to feature on the various Passion-oriented rosaries (of which the Five Wounds is one type). The conventional five wounds are two hands, two feet and either the side (heart) or the head (crown of thorns). The heart seems more common. Hands, feet, heart, head, and something else would make the significant number seven, but what to count as the seventh is somewhat unclear; the bruise on Christ's shoulder from carrying the cross is sometimes suggested, though it's difficult to depict.

Making one of these rosaries is definitely on my long list of "things to do" for the study collection. You can actually still buy modern five-wounds rosaries, or the parts to make them, although the modern parts are usually quite a bit less exciting, being flat-modeled or engraved medallions. There are also enameled ones, which are quite nice.

Five Wounds

I've been threatening to learn pewter casting to make my own -- considering how sketchy and primitive some of the existing pieces are, I'm sure I can do at least that well at carving or modeling something to cast from.