Thursday, January 29, 2009

Same theme, different beads

New rosaries part 2

As I mentioned earlier, it has been interesting to look at the invention of some "new" rosaries and what they say about rosary history.

I have another, and rather different, example, on the "pro-life" theme. This is a rosary sold by Holy Love Ministries, started by a woman in Ohio who believes she has received visions of Jesus and Mary.

"New" rosaries (sometimes called chaplets) have originated in a variety of ways over time. Many, such as the mid-1800s Rosary for the Dead (invented by Abbé Serre of Nismes, France) or the Chaplet of the Precious Blood (Fr. Francesco Albertini, 1809), were the idea of a particular person. Quite typically the inventors were priests or spiritual directors who developed ideas that they thought would help people in their parishes or under their direction.

Other rosaries, such as the Rosary of Divine Mercy (Saint Faustina Kowalska, 1930s) or the Chaplet of Tears (a Sr. Amalia from Campina, Brazil, 1929), were founded by someone who believed they had a vision.

Visions are a touchy subject. They don't fit into modern society very well, so people who have visions tend to be dismissed as either holy or crazy (or both! ;). At the same time, vision and miracle stories are tremendously popular with the public, which from the Church's point of view doesn't help the situation.

Historically the Catholic Church has been cautious. Catholics are not required to believe in any particular vision, even the ones that have Church approval (although the Church teaches it's wrong to believe visions from God are impossible). Nevertheless, it's quite clear, and well understood by the Church, that not all visions are from God. Some are the products of imagination, wishful thinking, or psychological problems. The Church teaches that Satan can also produce convincing -- but fake -- visions.

Generally, the Church deals with visions according to guidelines laid down in the 18th century by Pope Benedict the Fourteenth (1740-1758). The first investigation of visions is usually the responsibility of the local bishop. If he is convinced a vision is "worthy of belief" he submits a report to the Vatican for approval. As you can see here, most visions are, in fact, not approved, and some are specifically disapproved. In the majority of cases, however, there is simply no decision yet. This "wait and see" period can be quite long.

The pro-life rosary sold by Holy Love Ministries -- called the "Rosary of the Unborn(tm)" -- is another example of a rosary inspired by a vision. Maureen Sweeney-Kyle writes that the Virgin Mary appeared to her, showed her a special rosary, and requested that Holy Love Ministries produce this rosary for the world. She also says that Mary promised that "each 'Hail Mary' prayed on this rosary from a loving heart will rescue one of these innocent lives from death by abortion." (And other promises here)

The beads are an unusual design. The Ave beads (on which one says the "Hail Mary") are transparent blue teardrop shapes. Visible inside each one is a small flesh-colored embryo. The Our Father beads are crosses, each made out of four red teardrop shapes that represent drops of blood. Enthusiasts of this rosary find these beads beautiful and moving. People who don't share this viewpoint can have very different reactions. (Pictures here.)

This example of a "new rosary" comes from a vision on which the Bishop of Cleveland has now issued a statement, saying that the visions are not supernatural in origin. (Thanks to correspondent JH for the update on this.)

And there have certainly been other critics (another here). Some of the contents of the messages Maureen Sweeney-Kyle reports and publishes do seem more than a bit strange.

Another source of unease among those who have commented about this rosary is the very tight hold the ministry maintains on everything related to this rosary. The name "Rosary of the Unborn" is trademarked and its designs are all copyrighted. The rosaries cannot be bought from anyone else -- all sales are direct. (Prices are comparable to more ordinary rosaries.) No one can buy the beads separately to make their own rosary: only finished rosaries are sold. And the ministry says that Mary's promises apply only to these particular rosaries, bought from them.

From a commercial point of view, close protection of a design is not unusual. The designs used are very distinctive, and I suspect that the "teardrop" beads especially were a bit difficult to engineer. Maintaining a monopoly on their product also ensures that any money raised goes only to Holy Love Ministries.

But on a rosary makers' mailing list a year or two ago one person very reasonably (I thought) asked, "... if this rosary can save so many unborn children and help end abortion, then wouldn't Our Lady want as many of them out there as possible?"

This is not the only distinctive rosary resulting from a vision. (In fact I talked about another one here.) These rosaries are created not by Church authorities, but by ordinary lay people. Rosaries have a long history of being a very "grass roots" form of prayer.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

New rosaries

I'm a bit behind the calendar here, but Catholics in many places in the last week or two were holding events to commemorate the Roe vs. Wade court decision on January 22nd, 1973. Many of these used the "Pro-life rosary" as their theme.

Whatever your opinion on this issue(and I'm not going to get into that at all), I find it interesting that "pro-life rosaries" have appeared. One of the things I've said repeatedly about rosaries is that there is not, and never in its history has been, only one "true" rosary. In the 1200s to mid-1400s (and perhaps earlier), there were many devotions that used beads, and out of those many (which I think of as the "primordial soup" ;) a very few of the variations (and one especially) arose, became popular, were endorsed by the Church, and have endured. Many other "rosaries" have been invented since, some using the same five decades as the common rosary of today and some not.

The best-known of the Pro-life-themed rosaries originated with an idea that came to a nursing student in Louisiana at the end of 1992. In basic form, it's a modern five-decade rosary, but it's quite easy to recognize when you see one because it uses a special pattern of colors in its beads. The crucifix can be any type, but the three Hail Mary beads between the loop and the crucifix are purple. The five decades are each made up of alternating colored and white beads: the first decade aqua and white; the second red and white; the third black and white; the fourth has three colors (red, white and blue); and the fifth, green and white. The marker beads (or Our Father beads) usually seem to be white or clear. These rosaries are still being made and distributed on a fairly large scale from the Office of Pro-Life Issues in the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. (Hmm. I should add one to my teaching collection.) And as far as I know, anyone is welcome to make rosaries according to this pattern: most of the rosaries given out from Lafayette are made by volunteers and donated.


The basic prayers of this rosary are the same as the common rosary of the 20th century: the Apostles' Creed, fifty Hail Marys, five Our Fathers and Glorias. The themes of each decade in the Pro-life rosary, on the other hand, may or may not be the usual Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious or Luminous "Mysteries." At least three different sets of special themes and meditations have been written for each decade of the Pro-life rosary, usually with an additional prayer on that theme to be said at the end of the decade. The ones I've found online are here, here, and here.

This is an excellent example of a "new rosary." Like most of the recent ones whose history is clear, it began as one person's idea, was endorsed by local Church authorities (the local bishop in this case), and became popular. (The common 20th century rosary came about in the mid-1400s in a similar way, as a local idea that spread. An amazing 100,000 people from all over Europe joined rosary guilds in just the seven years from 1475 to 1481.)

Another interesting thing is that both the common rosary and this one have benefited greatly from widespread literacy. Of course, once you have memorized three prayers and fifteen mystery titles, reciting the common rosary does not require a book -- that's one of its attractions for 15th century lay people. But from the very beginning, many rosary leaflets and handbooks have been published to encourage its use. Probably the most popular of the early rosary manuals was Unser Lieben Frauen Psalter (Our Dear Lady’s Psalter), attributed to Alanus de Rupe. Revised and reprinted many times by his followers, it went through seven editions between 1483 and 1502. In a similar way, the Pro-life rosary has spread through printed prayer cards and the Internet, as well as by word of mouth, public events, newspaper stories, and gifts of a Pro-life rosary from one friend to another.

A lot of people -- including some Catholics -- have an image of Roman Catholicism as an entirely "top-down" organization. But the constant invention and spread of new rosaries, I think, demonstrates that "grassroots" Catholicism is alive and thriving.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The beads of Nostradamus

roses revisited, part 3

As I mentioned in Part 1, the first of Nostradamus’ two recipes (Chapter X of the book) produces an intensely scented rose extract or oil. Now we'll look at his second recipe (Chapter XI), which is for making pommes de senteur (literally “scented apples,” meaning pomanders) out of a whole list of things compounded together, of which the rose extract is only one.

Apothecary monk
Autre annotation pour composer pommes de senteur. Recipe Ladani purissimi z.ij. Storacis calamitici, Assae odoriferae, que nous appelons benioin Ann. z.i. Tricos de roses z.s. Pouldre de violete z.ij. Ambre & musc de chascun demy drachme. puis le tout soit pulverisé & pasté avec la surdite mixtion de roses: & soit faite paste fort malaxee par l’espace d’une heure: & aves d’une pomme de la plus souveraine senteur, & la plus durable qui se puisse faire au monde:

Here’s my best guess at a translation:
Another method for making aromatic balls: Take two ounces of the purest labdanum, an ounce each of Styrax calamites and Assae odoriferae (which we call benzoin), half an ounce of rose-tablets, one ounce of violet powder, and half a dram each of amber [ambergris?] and musk. Grind it all into a powder, knead it together with the rose-mixture mentioned earlier [i.e. the rose extract from the first recipe] for the space of an hour and you will have an aromatic ball of the most supreme perfume, and the longest-lasting that can be made anywhere in the world.

(By the way, these do not have opium in them! The ingredient mentioned is “labdanum” (note the B) not “laudanum”!)

So what we have here is about four ounces of ground-up plant resins (labdanum, benzoin and storax), an ounce and a half of powdered dry ingredients (rose tablets and violet powder), half a dram each of ambergris (or a substitute) and musk (both these last are waxy animal products), and an unknown quantity of rose extract.

There are some surviving objects from the Renaissance with a composition like this, or at least I think that's what they might be: there are a couple of small bear sculptures and a carved pendant from the 16th century that are said to be composed of “musk or ambergris,” though apparently they haven’t been analyzed in detail. I’d be unsurprised to find them composed of something similar to this recipe; I’d think pure musk or pure ambergris would be too soft as well as too expensive. (The resins were expensive, but both musk and ambergris were worth at least twice their weight in gold.)


What was Nostradamus' second recipe used for? And why does it say it makes "paternosters"?

Obviously the main purpose of compounds like this is to give off a pleasant scent. Many of the similar recipes I've looked at recommend leaving these scented balls or cakes in a dish on a table to scent a room, rather like potpourri. The same use is also prescribed for pastilles like the ones discussed in Part 2.

The same formulas are also recommended for burning like incense, which also makes sense. I certainly don't see any ingredients in them that would not burn, given a little encouragement.

Scented balls, or sometimes the paste before it hardened, could also be used to fill pierced metal or filigree containers, such as the pomanders that survive from this period in museum collections, or those seen in paintings (for instance, something like this, where a pomander is clearly part of a rosary:


And finally, beads. I think when M. de Nostradame says his recipe is for making "patinostres" he means beads: by the 16th century, a single bead could be referred to as "a paternoster," as well as the whole string.

There are a number of references to scented paternoster beads in period documents. Some of these are clearly pierced metal or filigree beads with scented stuff inside. (I am much indebted to R. Lightbown's chapter on paternoster beads in Medieval European Jewellery, which lists a number of these.) For instance, young Marie de France in 1377 had a paternoster of gold beads "filled with amber," probably real or imitation ambergris. Her father Charles V in 1380 had certain beads "full of musk" and in 1386 King Charles the Bold of Navarre paid for botones, probably paternoster beads, of gold and silver "that if pierced may be used for filling with musk."

Then we get to references that are harder to interpret. In 1300, Constance of Sicily, queen of Aragon, had a paternoster with "some beads of gold, pierced, and some of labdanum." In 1432 King René of Anjou had a paternoster with beads "of musk". The first of these especially suggests -- but doesn't prove -- that the labdanum was not inside a pierced gold bead, but perhaps was a solid bead by itself.

There is also a recipe from more than 100 years later that reads as follows (from From Mary Doggett, Her Book of Recipes, 1682):
Take a quarter of an ounce of civit, a quarter and a half-quarter of an ounce of Ambergreese, not a half a quarter of an ounce of ye spiritt of Roses, 7 ounces of Benjamin [benzoin], almost a pound of Damask Rose buds cut. Lay gumdragon [gum tragacanth]in rose water and with it make your pomander, with beads big as nutmegs and color them with Lamb black[lampblack]; when you make them up wash your hands with oyle of Jasmin to smooth them, then make them have a gloss, this quantity will make seaven Bracelets.

But while this, unlike Nostradamus, produces something that does have quite a lot of rose petals in it, it also has quite a lot of benzoin. And it is not a medieval or even a Renaissance recipe. And beads (if that's what they are) "as big as nutmegs" would be at least an inch in diameter, which to me makes it much more plausible to think in terms (again) of a bracelet with a single pomander hanging from it, rather than an entire bracelet of beads that big. (Though I could, of course, be quite wrong here -- any late 17th-century costumers may feel free to correct me ;)

So does Nostradamus' second recipe make beads? It very well could.

But is it evidence for medieval beads made from rose petals? I don't think so. We have evidence of Renaissance-era beads made from a lot of plant resins, a small amount of dried and powdered flower petals, and a rose extract. They are fascinating -- but I, at least, would not call those "rose petal beads."

All posts in this series:

Part 1: Roses revisited
Part 2: Rose pastilles
Part 3: The beads of Nostradamus

(P.S. This series took me a long time to write because I kept getting distracted by fascinating sidetracks: for instance, did you know labdanum was collected by clipping the beards of goats who had been grazing on the plant?)


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rose pastilles

roses revisited, part 2

I promise I'll get to the second recipe from Nostradamus that I mentioned in Part 1, but first I want to digress a bit.

One of the ingredients in Nostradamus' second recipe is something called Trocis de roses. This means "rose tablets" or "rose pastilles" and there are a number of recipes for making them scattered through various sources. Like Nostradamus' first recipe, these recipes also are frequently thought to be recipes for rose-petal beads, because these trocis -- unlike the process followed in Nostradamus' first recipe -- are made by grinding up actual petals. (Nostradamus' first recipe, you'll recall, has you soak the rose petals and then throw them out and use the liquid.)

The earliest recipe I've seen for rose pastilles is from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, which dates to the first century AD. I can't vouch for the accuracy of this translation, but here's the version I have. As you can see, there are other fragrant resins included in the recipe, so it's not just rose petals.

"Rose balls, or rhodides, are made this way. Of fresh roses before they become damp, 40 drachmas; spikenard, 5 drachmas; myrrh, 6 drachmas. These are beaten fine and made up into little troches, each weighing 3 oboli [about 1.5 grams -- Ed.]. These are then dried in the shade and stored in closely sealed jars. Some also add costus, 2 drachmas, and the same amount of Illyrian orris, mixing also honey, and wine from the island of Chios.”

There are also a great many late 16th and 17th century recipes for these scented pastilles, which may or may not use roses as an ingredient. Rose pastilles seem to be one example of a method of compounding herbs and spices that was used more generally. Culpepper's herbal has general directions for making pastilles, using gum tragacanth as a binder: "with this you may (with a little pains taking) make any Pouder into Past[e], and that Past[e] into little Cakes called Troches." Gervase Markham's The English Housewife (1615) has troches composed not of roses but of orris root, marjoram, sweet basil, cloves, sandalwood and citron.

Scales woodcut

One interesting recipe for rose pastilles is from an anonymous 16th-century Spanish manuscript called Manual de mugeres en el qual se contienen muchas y diversas reçeutas muy buenas (Mss. 834, now in the Biblioteca Palatina de Parma, Italy, and online here).

Here is the original recipe and a translation by Dana Huffman:

Receta para hacer pasticas de perfume de rosas:
Tomar una libra de rosas sin las cabezuelas, y siete onzas de menjuí molido. Echar las rosas en remojo en agua almizclada y estén una noche. Sacar después estas rosas y expremidlas mucho del agua, y majadlas con el menjuí. Y al majar, poner con ello una cuarta de ámbar y otra de algalia. Y después de majadas, hacer vuestras pasticas y ponedlas cada una entre dos hojas de rosas, y secadlas donde no les dé el sol.

Recipe for making rose-scented tablets:
Take a pound of roses without the flower heads, and seven ounces of ground benzoin. Put the roses to soak in musk water for a night. Remove these roses afterwards and thoroughly squeeze out the water, and grind them with the benzoin. And when grinding, put with it a quarter of amber [ambergris?] and another of civet. And after [they are] ground, make your tablets and put each one between two rose leaves [i.e. petals], and dry them away from the sun.


You may have noticed that in none of these recipes are you directed to pierce holes in these or to string them. The recipe from Manual de mugeres, in fact, is clearly for flat tablets, since each one is dried between two rose petals.

Next we'll look at Nostradamus' recipe and consider the ingredients used.

All posts in this series:

Part 1: Roses revisited
Part 2: Rose pastilles
Part 3: The beads of Nostradamus