Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pretty pictures

Every so often I make a batch of medieval-style rosaries as gifts for friends or special occasions (and before you ask, no, I'm not making them for sale).

And when I'm busy or in the middle of research for some later posts (as now), sometimes you get a "pretty pictures" post with some chat about how I made each piece and what I find out along the way.

Here is one such post.

This first rosary is the subject of an experiment. It has a braided cord -- in this case, a 3-strand, fairly coarse braid because these beads have big holes and because a 3-strand braid is the only one I can currently do easily without looking at it. I'd like to do more braided cords, because I think they are likely to be more durable than plain silk twist (as I wrote here), but I find them very time-consuming to do.

I also didn't glue or put a crimp bead over the knot as I usually do; instead I took sewing thread and sewed through the knot several times to keep it from unraveling. So this one is a test. It's for someone who's likely to give it some hard wear, and we'll see how it holds up.

The small beads are bone -- about 8mm, since I forgot to photograph this one with a ruler -- and the red beads are glass, part of a necklace I bought from eBay that was supposed to be coral but wasn't. (Glass is heavier and colder than coral to the touch, and often has swirl marks: these beads do, and coral doesn't.)


This next set is smoky quartz (8mm) and the five different colored beads specified in the story from Alanus de Rupe's early rosary manual that I wrote about in Alanus de Lupe and the beads of death ;). Each colored bead has special symbolism.


These next are some beads I threw together quickly as a prize for a tournament -- hence the rather random charms attached. Although it's a well-known Christian symbol, I've never actually seen a fish attached to a historical rosary. I suspect the fish symbol fell out of favor after the early Christian centuries and was revived after the Reformation by Christians seeking to return to their "roots."

The small beads are natural-colored mother-of-pearl, which I really like the look of. I don't know -- and would be interested to know -- whether the rosaries mentioned in historical documents as being made of mother-of-pearl were this natural color or whether they were bleached white as we usually see today.

The markers are carved jasper. I haven't seen anything quite like this five-petaled rose motif as actual historical rosary beads (there's one example of something similar in wood), but depicting rosary beads as roses is very common in woodcuts, paintings and statues. Sometimes the Ave beads in such artwork are plain round beads and the gauds or marker beads are depicted as roses, and we know markers were made in many shapes, so it is at least plausible.


The last one for now is in memory of a friend's favorite saint: Saint Amalberga. I had never heard of her and had to look her up. There are actually three saints by this name, but their legends have become confused. The earliest, Saint Amalberga of Maubeuge (who died in 690) was a relative of Blessed Pepin of Landin; three of her children also became saints (Gudula, Emebert, and Reineldis, the last of whom made a pilgrimage to Rome and whose statue I wrote about here). This Amalberga is said to have crossed a lake to bring the Gospel to the people on the other side, standing on the backs of two helpful sturgeons that appeared for this purpose. (I envision a sort of medieval jet-skis.)

Another Amalberga lived a century or so later. She was a nun and is said to have refused marriage proposals from the Emperor -- either Charles Martel or Charlemagne, depending on which version you read -- and when he tried to drag her away from the altar, he broke her arm, and as a result was stricken with an illness which she later miraculously cured. The legend has her coffin floating away accompanied by fish, so there is something fishy about her too. There was a third Saint Amalberga, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, but she doesn't come along till the twelfth century.

These beads are green glass with mother-of-pearl markers, and I added an end bead of carved jade because I had it lying around and it seemed to go with the color theme. The attachments are another fish (especially appropriate in this case) and a square flat cross.


All of these projects are attempts to construct something that is appropriate as a gift for a particular friend or occasion, but at the same time is more or less plausible as a representation of what medieval rosary beads may have looked like. We're handicapped in trying to do this by the fact that we don't have the same materials available to us and by our incomplete knowledge. But it's still fun and still an interesting and useful exercise.