Thursday, December 22, 2005

If you've got it, flaunt it:

Wearing medieval rosaries, part 1

After writing about giving medieval-style rosaries and paternosters as gifts, it occurred to me it would be useful to see what we can find out about how to wear them.

With modern clothes, of course, a rosary is normally carried in a pocket or purse. But especially if you belong to a historical re-enactment group, you will probably want some guidance on how to wear your medieval rosary with your medieval clothes, especially for any holiday festivities. If you have a gorgeous medieval rosary, you will probably want to flaunt it!

Starting with the simplest, we have a number of portraits of people just holding their beads in their hands, or looped around a wrist or over the arm.

Many religious paintings intended to hang in churches have small pictures of their donors kneeling in front of the holy scene, and quite a few of these donors, if you look closely, are holding rosaries. Here's a typical pair of donors, another Austrian image from REALonline.

This is from one wing of a several-paneled altarpiece, dated to around 1518, by an unknown artist who signed his painting "AA".

When not actively praying, people may hold their rosaries looped over one arm, as in the statue on the left here, carved by the Master of Elsloo in the 1520s. The donor on the right is holding his in the same way: he is from a corner of Rodrigo de Osona the Younger's painting, "The Adoration of the Magi", ca. 1500.

In the 16th-century German woodcut below, the lady on the left looks as though she is removing her rosary from where she had it stashed inside one of her sleeves.


Some of the men's style "Tenners" or ten-bead strings have a wrist loop -- as seen in this portrait of a rather grumpy burgher:

Man with tenner

And the estimable Balthasar Eicheister, whose 1528 portrait you may have already seen in Balthasar's acorns, is wearing his rosary wrapped several times around his wrist, like a bracelet:

Balthasar acorns

Balthasar closeup

When I'm wearing medieval clothing, I'm usually also doing things with my hands, so I often look for ways to wear a rosary so it's visible and decorative, but out of my way. My experiments show that if you want a rosary wrapped around your wrist like Balthasar's to stay put and to hang at more or less even lengths, it needs to be fastened to your sleeve with a brooch that catches all of the strands. Otherwise, especially if the string of beads is slippery, it will slip around so that one loop hangs down too far and the others are pulled snug.

I've also tried -- though I haven't seen this in paintings -- looping a rosary several times around my upper arm, above the elbow -- again, firmly fastened with a brooch. This works very well, except that I've learned not to wear it this way when I'm driving a car, because it inevitably catches on the gearshift lever. I now have a red glass rosary with several beads that don't quite match the others, because the string snapped and spilled little red glass beads all over my car, and I never did find the last three of the ones that were missing.

posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Ring around the collar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?