Sunday, June 20, 2010

Off the wall

wall rosaries part I

Back in the very beginning of this blog I wrote an article called Up against the wall, which discussed very large rosaries, made for hanging on the wall. I mentioned wall rosaries again recently, and I've been collecting images for a while so I could write more about them.

The purpose of a wall rosary is to decorate a room and to serve as an expression of faith. It may be hung on a wall (though I'm not always clear on exactly how you're supposed to do this -- picture hooks?), or draped gracefully over a table or other piece of furniture. I don't get the impression that wall rosaries are actually used for prayer very often.

Wall rosaries tend to have beads anywhere from half an inch to an inch or so in diameter. The beads can be plain or with some sort of design or image on them. They can be connected by wire loops or strung on strings. The only thing they have in common is their size, although most of them are also arranged in the same pattern as a normal 20th century rosary: five groups of ten beads each, and an extra short string of beads above the crucifix.

When people don't recognize a wall rosary, they often assume that such a large rosary must be a "belt rosary" -- the sort of thing a monk or priest would wear attached to the belt over their religious habit. It's true that many monks, friars and nuns in traditional habits do wear a conspicuous rosary: this is a tradition that seems to have become especially popular in the 19th and early 20th century, with the upsurge in devotion to the Virgin Mary.

But if you actually look at these "belt rosaries," while they may have beads somewhat bigger than your ordinary pocket rosary, they are usually not that big. The standard size of beads for most modern rosaries is about 6 millimeters. Belt rosaries may be in the 10mm to 12mm range, but that's still half an inch or less. It's not at all unusual to find wall rosaries with beads over an inch, and this explanation doesn't account for those.

Another theory people come up with is that these big rosaries are somehow "pentitential." With (I suppose) vague memories of Scrooge's ghost dragging heavy, clanking chains, people suppose that great sinners must have been saddled with giant (clanking? ;) rosaries as some sort of badge of shame. It's an entertaining image, but doesn't have any basis in fact that I know of. (See This rosary is shot for another instance of this idea.)

The two most common sorts of wall rosary have beads respectively of wood and of a whitish synthetic compound that at first glance looks somewhat like ivory. Here's a common type of wooden wall rosary:


The ivory-colored synthetic rosaries tend to look like this, although there are a number of slightly different styles:


The artwork on these last is often in a rather striking 1960s artistic style -- I suspect the 1960s are when these began to be manufactured in quantity.

Both the wooden versions and this version are still being made and sold today, for instance at Rome Gift Shop and These rosaries tend to sell for prices in the range of $40 to $60, a fact I wish that more eBay sellers knew. (I recently saw one for which the seller was asking $500 -- he said he'd bought it for $150.)

I plan to write about both these common types at some point, but for now, here are a few of the less common types I've found.

Until recently there was a website that had a number of different styles using various colors and shapes of large glass beads. That site was down when I last checked, though. I'd imagine a wall rosary made of glass could be quite pretty, but also rather heavy.

A lighter-weight version has beads made of clear hard acrylic plastic with metal decoration.


Glow-in-the-dark plastic rosaries also come in large "wall versions." I have to admit, these are not to my personal taste: the idea of having a large glowing rosary on a wall seems a bit eerie to me. But obviously some people like them.


So far I've only seen one wall rosary made from leather. This is also the only one I've seen that has "beads" that are flat circles rather than round beads -- logical for a wall decoration, I'd think. The seller of this one on eBay said it was purchased about 50 years ago from monks in Florence, Italy.


And I've seen a number of wall rosaries made from various kinds of clay or ceramic, glazed or unglazed. These can be quite attractive in a "folk art" sort of way (I rather like these myself). I'd think that the weight might make them somewhat difficult to hang on a wall, however.