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.