Monday, April 02, 2007

Five (More) Wounds

While idly looking at a woodcut I've used (in slightly altered form) on the "front page" of Paternoster-Row, I suddenly realized that this was not just a picture of a rosary I was looking at: it was a picture of a particular type of rosary called a Rosary of the Five Wounds.


The key is what you can see on the five medallions: two of them have pictures of feet, two of hands, and one of a heart. This woodcut of the Virgin Mary and Saint Dominic is from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, Germany.

You know how you never notice something, and then suddenly you start seeing it everywhere? That's happened to me with these Five Wounds rosaries. And they seem to be more common than I would have expected, given that today they are only a very, very small minority of all rosaries.

First, a bit of clarification. The first "Five Wounds" rosaries I noticed were ones that had five groups of five beads. A historical example is this one, carved in wood, from the Diocesan Museum in Köln (Cologne, Germany), of a type that appears in the 15th century. (As the museum label somewhat evasively puts it: "Der type erscheint im 15. Jhr.") The photo isn't very good and it's hard to decipher the carving, but the flat surface of the topmost flower-shaped bead has a hand carved on it, the one on the bottom right has a foot and ankle roughly outlined (and upside-down), and the pendant at far right is a pierced heart inside a crown of thorns (broken). The backs of the "flower" parts seem to be carved with a rough circle and radiating "vein" lines.


I've also seen such rosaries -- as in the first illustration -- with five groups of ten beads. I actually do not think this is a terribly significant difference. As a phenomenon that pretty much started at the "grass roots" of popular devotion and only gradually became officially noticed and regulated, rosaries and chaplets of all sorts have always had a good deal of room for improvisation and the development of new variations. There is seldom only one "right" form. If something has the five medals with hands, feet and heart, I'll call it a Five Wounds rosary.

Modern rosary makers do still make and offer these -- here's an example. I find these modern medals less than exciting, but they seem to be all that's commercially available.


Now for the jucier stuff. First, there's the St. Dominic woodcut I've already mentioned. (We know now that St. Dominic Guzman really doesn't seem to have had anything to do with the origins of the rosary, but for much of the Middle Ages and later, people firmly believed he did.)

Next, there's this one:

Here again, we have ten "roses" between the medallions bearing the "wounds." This woodcut is by Wolf Traut, 1510. (Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek.)


And here, an angel in a 17th-century engraving (from the Gruuthusmuseum, Bruges) holds up another version. This one has the five "wounds," and there are five groups of five beads. A sixth medallion shows the head of Christ with a crown of thorns, and it ends in yet another medallion showing the Virgin Mary and Child. The inscription under the engraving says (if I'm reading it right):

"Myn Seele gebenedyt den Heere die u croont in bermhertigheyt ende ontferminghen - Psal. 102" I'm not sure how to translate this (German? Dutch? Low German?) and I can't find the verse offhand in either Psalm 102 or 103, but it seems to be something beginning "My soul [blesses?] the Lord..."


I truly hope the angel is not -- as this engraving certainly makes it look -- proposing to use this rosary as a jump rope. He'll trip. :)