Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rosaries on belts:

Wearing rosaries, part 2

I began before New Year's to write about how to wear a rosary or paternoster with medieval clothing. I was actually hoping to get several articles written before the Twelfth Night festivities hit, but "Life" wound up interfering and I'm only now getting back to it.

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. If you have a gorgeous medieval rosary, you will probably want to flaunt it!

Probably the most common place to see a rosary in a medieval image is attached to someone's belt. Often we can't see enough detail to determine exactly how it's attached. But when we can, sometimes the rosary is clearly just tucked into the belt or looped over it in one way or another.

The detail below, from the tomb brass of Master Geoffrey Kidwelly (d. 1483, Little Wittenham, Berkshire) shows the most typical way we see men's paternosters attached: he has a "tenner" simply tucked into his belt, carried over one hip.

Overbelt-1 Manbrass

While Master Kidwelly has a straight string of beads, the looped type of paternoster can be tucked into the belt pretty much in the same way:


The wealthy lady donor in the painting below, by an unknown artist from about 1475 in Li├Ęge, also appears to have her own (white) rosary tucked into her belt, although she's holding part of a different (red) rosary in her hands. (You can't see the full context in this detail: the red rosary is being held out to her by the Infant Jesus, who is sitting in Mary's lap.)


It's conceivable that a looped rosary could be worn on the belt if the belt was actually passed through the loop, as in the diagram below. But a recent question from a correspondent on a slightly different subject made me think this through a bit. It now seems to me more likely that a rosary would be worn in such a way that you could easily take it off and pray with it. That would make it less likely that you'd wear it in such a way that you'd have to unbuckle your belt in order to take the rosary off. I don't know whether respectable ladies and gentlemen ever unbuckled their belts in public -- would that seem too much like "undressing"?


However, this is logic, not evidence :) And logic, and what seems like common sense to us, has proven to be a very bad guide to what actually went on in history. So take this suggestion for what it's worth. I'd be happy to see concrete evidence either way.

A rosary can also be more or less knotted onto the belt for greater security, by putting part of it over the belt and passing the rest of the beads through the resulting loop:


It's hard to see -- and I'd still like a better view of the details, though this is one of my mystery paintings and I don't know where to look for the original -- but it seems to me that this straight rosary might be attached to the wearer's belt in this way. In this case, I'm imagining the beads have a plain loop of string at one end, and that's what's knotted to the belt, up there in the dark corner. But I can't be sure.


Finally, below is probably the most peculiar way I've seen of slinging a rosary casually onto one's belt. It looks to me as though this gentleman has twined it around the handle of his dagger. That is guaranteed to keep him peaceable, since he can't draw the dagger without the risk of sending his beads flying! This is another image from REALonline, a detail of the Judgement of Daniel painted around 1505 by the Master of Mariapfarr in Salzburg, and now in Graz at the Landesmuseum Joanneum.


posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Rubg ariybd tge cikkar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?